the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Valesco House‘Together time’ valued at Valesco House

Ayo Cole (with Jessica Meyers ’02)

The four residents of Valesco House – a cooperative program between Mennonite Disabilities Committee and Goshen College – have busy schedules: studies, jobs, meals together, social activities and more. So who best keeps track of the comings and goings? The housemates agree that Lisa Mort stays on top of things. Mort, a young woman from Goshen with developmental disabilities, moved into Valesco House in January, joining student caregivers Rachel Koontz (Sr., Elkhart, Ind.), Megan Cunningham (Sr., Nappanee, Ind.), and Charletta Erb (Jr., Wellman, Iowa).

Valesco House, located at the corner of College Avenue and 12th Street, is the “sister house” in the MDC Vita Program, joining the nearly seven-year-old Vita House for male students and MDC residents. Both houses aim to integrate high-functioning MDC clients with GC students, enriching the life of the college community and the lives of persons with developmental disabilities as each learns from the other.

Like Vita House, the mission is to create a warm, comfortable group home environment for individuals with developmental disabilities who live in the house with several GC students. Together, they do various activities, similar to campus small group housing. The GC students receive discounted rent and money for food. The program is mainly voluntary.

Mort enjoys living with the students and participating in college activities; she has a college mailbox and ID card as well as a campus meal plan – somewhat like an adjunct student. She joins her GC housemates in taking care of chores such as shopping, cooking and cleaning. Her housemates describe her as enthusiastic, friendly and creative.

In addition, it’s Mort who usually knows what members of the busy household are doing.

“She’s always interested in what’s going on in our lives.” Erb said. “And creative, like [with] crafts. She likes to make up homework for herself. I see it as a way she’s identifying with us as students.”

Said Koontz, “Lisa keeps everyone’s schedule straight. She also works hard.”
Mort volunteers every weekday, folding laundry at Greencroft, and works three days a week at Arby’s; she likes that she gets paid.

Mort has adjusted well to living in this unique group environment, and says she does not miss her family as much because of the new friends she has made at Valesco House. Mort’s parents live only a few minutes away from Valesco House, and can visit her during the week.

Cunningham says that one of the things she enjoys most about Valesco House is “just all coming together when we’re all at the dinner table.”

All three GC women would like to see more students and people with disabilities interacting together. “I found out there was going to be a new Vita House for women and knew I wanted to be part of it,” Cunningham said.

Koontz, who said she has found this program to be a good learning experience, said, “My goal is to share life with people with disabilities, to learn from them and be with them where they are.”

Student residents of both Vita and Valesco houses are required to take the Church as Care-Giver class and attend several training sessions from MDC, learning more about marginalized groups and what it means to live in community.

Ayo Cole is a sophomore communication major from Nairobi, Kenya. Additional information came from Jessica Meyers (Sr., Bethseda, Md.). More information about the Vita Program can be found online at
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