Living in Community, Why I Stayed in Canada

Canada has been filled with so many unexpected surprises.

(I should have known that when I took the plunge three years ago, huh?)

These surprise opportunities have provided the most compelling reasons for remaining in Canada post-graduation. One in particular deserves some explanation and extra gratitude as it gave me so much more than a roof over my head and a job.

In September 2014, just a few weeks free of my final graduate school work, I was seeking my next step. With Mom and Dad moved even further across the globe, going “home” to Texas no longer felt like a clear choice or back-up. The thought of starting over Stateside appealed to me, but I again felt no clear call telling me where I should go. The thought of journeying further abroad out of English-speaking North America excited me, but the only signs I heard pointed toward staying put longer in Toronto.

With no job prospects in my career area or even just not in minimum wage retail sales, I needed a more tangible reason to stay.

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Maggie in front of the KK House in Canada t-shirt in winter snow.

And that’s when I received the job posting from St Stephen-in-the-Field’s priest Mother Maggie. Two single moms were seeking a roommate on behalf of their young adult daughters. Not just any roommate, but a “Friendly Housemate” who would mentor two women with intellectual disabilities as they transitioned into independent living for the first time. In exchange for setting up the house, agreeing to and enforcing some ground rules, and offering support, guidance, and role-modeling of safe, independent living, I would have a place to live for at least a year.

I lived at “KK” house with Krystal and Karen for a year and a half.

Although I had no previous professional experience working with adults with disabilities, something clicked when I interviewed with the moms and then their daughters. I thought up roommate agreements, plans for how to organize our schedules, and ways to bond over Friday night Glee watching parties and suddenly on Halloween 2014 I found myself carting my suitcases and clothes over to the new house.

Day-to-day at KK house is easy to explain.

We all three had our independent lives, but we came together three times a week for community meals. For these meals, we divided up shopping, preparation, and clean-up equally. According to the roommate agreement, we all had to sleep at the house and keep track of each other when coming back late at night. And our least favorite but necessary part: equal division of chores in a weekly rotation.

But the reality of what I experienced in that year is much harder to capture.

This video shows some of it, albeit mainly from Krystal and Karen’s perspective (https://youtu.be/hGLuUBJCTMY).

This article written by one of the moms who employed me also reveals another perspective, that of a parent releasing her adult daughter into the world (http://bloom-parentingkidswithdisabilities.blogspot.ca/2015/03/letting-go.html).

Most of my duties as a peer mentor did not fit into the three scheduled weekly meetings. It sometimes meant knocking on doors to go over chores again, to demonstrate why one pass through hadn’t been effective and how to build up a habit of doing your laundry. It often meant fielding texts about what items to buy at the grocery store or when someone would be arriving home. It sometimes meant taking extra time while doing the dishes to listen to one woman’s problems at work or with friends and offering advice on how to resolve these issues.

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Maggie, Krystal, and Karen in a Valentine’s day selfie.

In super fun moments, it meant escorting them to the movies, the theatre, or other social engagements to truly share the joys of adult life and Toronto’s communities with them.

Everything I learned when I was a newbie to Toronto and Canada I got to share with them.

I thought it would exhaust me–and sometimes it did–because I shared some similar responsibilities as a parent or guardian, but without the authority of those role models. As a peer, I learned how to truly lead by example. It was a position I fell into naturally. I thought coming home from work out of the house I would find myself too crabby and exhausted from dealing with customers to connect with my housemates. But I always found so much encouragement in their smiling faces.

It sounds cliche and sappy to say, but is honestly true: I learned so much more than I taught.

Krystal and I both work in television, film, and theatre. We share a similar community in these industries and both experience the challenges of young artists breaking in, but in very different ways. Karen and I have similar personalities and similar drives to be independent, to take care of the people around us, and to be deeply connected to the communities we love. I was surprised how much we had in common, how often I found myself giving her advice that someone had just given me. By saying these things aloud to her, they began to be true for me. Lead by example, right? I had a daily reminder to walk the talk.

I found a great deal of confidence in serving Karen and Krystal. It was painful to make the decision to move out of their house at the end of April 2016. But as we all grew and my life in Toronto began to take on deeper roots in my career, personal life, and arts/writing projects, it became time to transition into a new relationship.

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Karen, Maggie, and Krystal on the front porch of their old home, the KK house.

Thankfully, I still see both Karen and Krystal around our new neighborhood–funnily enough, we still only ended up a few blocks away from each other. Though we are no longer housemates, we are friends and, to me at least we will always also be family.

Who knew life as a friendly housemate would be this delicious?

Check out the latest summer issue of Canadian Living magazine for another article written by Madeleine Greey explaining more of Karen and Krystal’s experiences transitioning to independent living and what we learned collectively from living at KK house!

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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One Response to Living in Community, Why I Stayed in Canada

  1. Pingback: My First Quarter Century: Year in Review | gladlybeyondaustinausten

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