Community Living Centers founder Mary Wagner, foreground, breaks ground in 1973 on a CLC group home on Tuck Road in Farmington Hills.

Community Living Centers founder Mary Wagner, foreground, breaks ground in 1973 on a CLC group home on Tuck Road in Farmington Hills.

Photo provided by Community Living Centers


Farmington group homes serve residents, community for 50 years

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published June 26, 2018

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FARMINGTON — Kathy Stalk has witnessed the landscape change in the 30 years she has worked at the Farmington-based Community Living Centers.

But some things never change.

“I think we continue to try to do everything we can to give our residents a good and happy, productive life,” Stalk said.

Stalk, 58, CLC’s current group home manager for one of its 11 homes, said she has worked in every capacity available at CLC.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I started when I was pretty young (28) and I heard about CLC though my sister, who was an employee here.”

Fifty years ago, the first employee — the group’s founder — was a mother who fought to keep her son from being institutionalized because of his developmental disability. 

Her actions ended up helping her son and about 200 others with developmental disabilities through CLC’s establishment in October 1968. 

That mother, Mary Wagner — a special education teacher described as a pioneer behind the group home concept — helped in the deinstitutionalization movement for people who have special needs. She passed away in 2001.

Stalk was hired in by Wagner.

 “After about a week, I was just hooked — fell in love with the residents and never sought any other job,” Stalk said.

Today, 11 group homes operate under the Community Living Centers umbrella.

The Wagner family moved from a little ranch-style home on Loomis Street in downtown Farmington to the original Wagner House, on 13 Mile Road in Farmington Hills, which would later house six adult men with disabilities.

“Mary was always a lot of fun, very understanding, respected us and our private life, as well as our work life,” Stalk said. “I just remember her smiling and (being) a wonderful woman.”

That legacy is one to admire,  CLC Director Lisa A. Murrell said during a recent interview in her office with Connor Osborn, CLC’s development and marketing manager.

“It’s very impactful,” Osborn said of CLC’s expansion to 11 homes in five decades. “(Wagner) saw this need for adults needing to be more involved with the community.”

Osborn said that others back then did not see a need; they saw a tax burden and stigma. 

The community of Farmington-Farmington Hills was one of the first communities that supported CLC.

“Farmington-Farmington Hills was one of the few cities that opened their arms to us over the years,” Murrell said. 

Currently, CLC supports 100 residents living in 11 group homes, offering respite care programs and semi-independent homes in Farmington, Southfield and Royal Oak

Osborn said Wagner pushed on despite negative feedback. 

Murrell said people thought that people with developmental disabilities belonged in their own communities and should not be part of the larger community. CLC residents, however, can be found at festivals, theaters, restaurants and grocery stores. 

“So many of our folks are visible and recognizable by name,” she said.

Osborn said all of the residents have a job in the community, and 90 percent of them are currently fully employed.

“The other 10 percent are at retirement age,” Osborn said. “They are all doing something in someway through … volunteer efforts.”

Murrell said that CLC’s focal point, mission and belief is that adults with developmental disabilities have the same rights as anyone.

“It is their responsibility to give back to their community; as well we want to be a partner within the communities.”

CLC also supports two young men who live on campus at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.

“They are engineering students, and (a) third one lives (on campus) at Michigan State University and is a business student,” Murrell said. Each had arrived at CLC with a “significant physical impairment” and required 24/7 care.

“But cognitively (they are fine and) taking courses — rocking it,” Murrell said. 

CLC has about 130 direct care workers.

“And out of all the folks, 20 of those individuals have been with CLC … for over 40 years,” she said.  CLC residents, on average, live in the homes for 29 years. 

“People came into our organization … (and) discovered a home and ... a family.”

That family is planning a barbecue, and they are inviting everyone with past or present ties to CLC to come visit.

The 50th anniversary barbecue will be held noon-4 p.m. July 13 in the parking lot of CLC, 33235 Grand River Ave. Hot dogs, chips, drinks and merchandise will be for sale; free-will donations are welcome.

Murrell said that one of the challenges the direct care service provider industry faces is that direct care staff workers are not looked upon as the licensed, accredited people that they are.

“Our funding doesn’t support that work that our staff (members) do,” she said. Entry-level pay is $2 to $4 per hour lower than some fast food restaurant or grocery store wages.

Murrell added that some of the staff members work two or three other jobs to support their families because they generally love working at CLC.

CLC receives Medicaid dollars filtered through the state and the county. The individuals who live in CLC homes pay a room and board rate through their Social Security funds, or they pay their own rent out of pocket.

Osborn said some CLC homes were purchased and others were donated or built for CLC.

Murrell said that CLC was a prototype in the state.

“(Wagner) and her husband, Bob, were the very first people recognized in the state of Michigan to open up a group home,” she said. 

Murrell said that the Farmington Hills community, for the most part, is aware of CLC and its objectives.

“However, it is still our mission to continue educating people that aren’t familiar with who we are,” Murrell said. “I think Mary (would) say (she is) incredibly proud of not only the work she and her husband did, but (that we were) able to continue it.”

For more information, visit www.clchomes.org.

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