TITLE: In the beginning, An Introduction to Providence House
By Constance Bronson
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Introduction to Providence House by Constance Bronson
Sometimes God shows His hand to give you a glimpse of what’s in store. I could accept that he might want my husband Dennis to change his vocation. I could accept that I need to follow him as his helper. What I couldn’t accept was that it was no longer just a ‘someday‘ thing, but an idea that had a chance to come to be.
It was exciting to watch God work to make it happen, but I became anxious about actually living that way. I wanted to be an outsider, an observer and not a star player of this production. Dennis was very excited because his long-time dream of owning and operating an adult foster care home was coming true.
During his career as a respiratory therapist he had worked for a home medical equipment company and his job involved delivering and setting up oxygen concentrators and nebulizers, or just hospital beds. Some of his patients lived in adult foster homes and he thought he would some day like to have one of those homes, doing what he liked to do and being self-employed.
Many years later, as we both worked in similar fields, we had needed to sell our house and get a smaller one because our combined incomes weren’t enough to stay in the home we had lived in for seven years. Dennis had taken a position with a Christian relief agency as their medical warehouse and pharmacy supply manager. It was a great job, but being a non-profit agency, they simply didn’t pay competitive wages.
And I had left a long-time clerical position at our local hospital to work in a physician’s office, also with quite a drop in pay. We had both learned that money wasn’t worth staying in a job that stifled us. And my work environment had been almost hostile, making it very discouraging at best.
We have always worked with a particular real estate agent throughout our married lives and he found us a really small house with a smaller price, so we bought it. During the process, Dennis wondered aloud to the realtor about the prospects of finding an adult foster care home for sale. There were none in the area at the time. We didn’t think about it much after that. At least I didn’t.
Almost six years later, that same real estate agent phoned us one day. He said, “Connie, you’ll never guess what just came on the market!” He didn’t give me a chance to guess. “The adult foster care home in Ferrysburg has just been listed. Are you guys still interested?”
“ Rick, I can’t believe you remembered that conversation with Dennis. It was a long time ago. I don’t think we’re in any financial position now to even think about it.” I was hoping that Dennis had given up on that idea. I really didn’t want a houseful of strangers to cook for, to bathe, and do laundry for. But I promised to tell him about it and get back to him.
The short story is that we went to see it, about five times. It’s a nice brick ranch style home that looks small from the front, but it really is roomy. There are four double occupancy rooms, one private room, two full baths and two half-baths. There is a finished basement that became our quarters.
The kitchen was dark and outdated in appearance, but the living room and dining room were nicely done in a traditional style. The house didn’t smell good on any day that we went to see it. It was that difficult to describe smell that is often found in the homes of older people, partly because the rooms didn’t get opened to allow fresh air to circulate.
We made an offer that was accepted as second offer, so we thought the decision had been made for us. Weeks went by before we learned that the first offer financing fell through. Enough time had passed so that the owners were becoming desperate and our first offer had expired. Their license was due to expire very soon, too soon for us to get licensed and take over. All of their residents needed to be placed elsewhere.
I wasn’t sure what we were doing, but we staked everything we owned to do it. We made a new offer for about $30,000 less than we offered the first time and they accepted it! We had to get financing somehow, since we were earning very little income. We had some retirement accounts that could be cashed in for a down-payment. Our local bank was not interested in financing this venture because our request had to be based on “potential income” not the actual income we were earning. Of course we couldn’t blame them, but it meant that we had to go to a broker who does this type of mortgage at a high rate of interest. He was recommended by the sellers of the home.
In spite of my reluctance,I was beginning to feel the hand of God at work in this project. And that made me feel less panicked even though I still didn’t want anything to do with the actual care of the residents in our home. I’ve never been a touchy-feely kind of person and I just thought I never would be. We applied for the license and took the necessary classes together, but I made it clear to the licensing agent that I had no intention to get involved in bathroom duty for these people. He listened to me, but he smiled a lot when I said those things. He and Dennis knew that there wasn’t going to be any way that I could avoid it.
Once we got the mortgage settled, we knew we would have to make some renovations that are required by the State of Michigan. The previous owners were allowed to put off certain requirements but they had to be implemented before we could open to residents.
What the sellers had neglected to tell us is that all of the interior doors in all bedrooms and bathrooms, and the rear exterior door had to be changed for fire regulations. The bedroom and bathroom doors had to be widened so it required contractors to do the installation and fill in where carpeting was missing.
It was the licensing agent who told us about the doors. It was estimated to cost around $5,000. We had scraped together enough for a down-payment and closing costs and we were required to have access to enough funds to cover six months operating expenses before we could be licensed. This news about the additional costs was enough to make us think we couldn’t do it, and we told Rick to tell the sellers that we had to withdraw our offer.
This is where we began to know that God was working in this crazy adventure. To solve the problem of the additional $5,000 costs, the sellers agreed to pay half of that and the realtors each agreed to pay the rest! Hard to believe, but that’s how it was. So we went ahead with our training and other requirements to get Dennis licensed and we were able to get the work done in three months.
We opened Providence House in March 2000. The place we bought was called Brick Manor. We wanted to change the name but we struggled with it for awhile. Then the word jumped out at me one day, and I checked the definition in Webster’s Dictionary. This particular dictionary gave a three-part meaning for providence - careful planning, prudent management, and Divine direction. It seemed to be ideal for the goals we had for our new home. Our providing for the residents is an outflow of God’s providing for us. And we wanted to give subtle witness that we were working to make our home successful and pleasing to God.
The stage had been set. We invited neighbors, friends and family to our open house the Sunday before we opened. We asked a pastor Dennis had worked with to offer a dedication blessing and we were on our way. I struggled with the concept of having a ministry and being paid for the service we provide. For some reason I thought it could only be a ministry if it was voluntary. That’s how naïve I was. The pastor assured me that every minister needs money to provide needed care to his congregation. And he needed to make a living for his family while he is providing the services of the church.
Another important piece to the story is Tillie our basset hound. On the day of our open house, Tillie greeted all the guests and got tired out. She was on the couch next to Dennis when the Pastor began his dedication. All during the service Tillie lay across Dennis’ lap moaning loudly. Dennis held her and stroked her but she would not stop moaning. Pastor Steve just had to talk louder to be heard.
Before we knew about the home coming available, I had answered an ad in the newspaper for a basset hound “free to good home”. I had been watching a neighbor walk a group of bassets around the block, and I always thought I’d like to have one.
The man on the phone told me he would hold her for me because I needed to wait for Dennis to get home from work to go with me. Unbeknown to the man, his daughter had promised Tillie to someone else. When Dennis and I got there, someone was driving away with her, and I could only see her head, but I was near tears. I hadn’t even seen her yet but I really wanted her. I gave the man my name and phone number just in case he got her back somehow.
After two months, the man who had Tillie had let her get away from him and someone found her on the road. The man did not try to find her, but the person who picked her up was able to trace her tag through the vet’s office to the original owner. They took her back and kept her a couple of weeks before calling me to see if I still wanted her. I went by myself to get her right away.
While we had been waiting for Tillie our plans to buy the foster care home took shape. When I was finally able to have her, I realized that she would be our mascot for the residents. I hadn’t liked the name Tillie, but it fits right in with Lucille, Ruth, Maggie and Florence, don’t you think?
Tillie has been the most precious dog I have ever known. Most of the time she behaves as if she’s human. She has about seven different voices and she’s never quiet for very long. She has been a blessing to all of us every day.
And that’s really where my story begins, where I learn to love strangers, where I learn about my husband’s unsung abilities and strengths, and where I learn about God’s provision and about His signature in everything and everyone about us.
If the mention of urinary incontinence, or infections, or bowel movements makes you queasy, you may not want to read my story. If you can consider these things a normal part of living, you might be able to understand that it becomes a major consideration with the elderly.
Try to imagine how you would feel if you had to let people take care of cleansing and drying and scrubbing up the messes you make as you try to do it all by yourself. You would remember that you used to be able to do all that, and you probably did it for your children. But now you need so much help, and it’s embarrassing. But you have no choice. You must be clean and you must allow someone to help you.
If you can’t get past those thoughts, you probably won’t be interested in the rest of my story. But you will miss out on knowing about very special people who learned to trust their care to people like my husband and me.
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