Sharing Life on the Farm
July 28, 2021
Rosita Johnson and her husband Carl had never heard of Lifesharing until a caseworker suggested the program for Carla, their medically fragile daughter. Her health issues were so severe, one of her legs was in danger of amputation. Johnson explained, “My daughter was in a group home and needed some help. Her caseworker mentioned Lifesharing, told us how it worked and gave us a list of agencies. RHD was on the list, we met with the director, and the rest was history.”
RHD Lifesharing provides shared living and supported living services for individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities and autism in Northeastern PA. The Lifesharing provider is a community-based, family-oriented home that offers people the ability to participate and contribute to the household while promoting personal growth and independence.
The Johnsons were excellent candidates for becoming Lifesharing providers themselves and began their journey in September 2017. Johnson reflected, “Caring for Carla wasn’t that much of an adjustment because I had taken care of my mom for the last ten years of her life, and Carl’s mother as well.”
Prior to Lifesharing, another medical emergency found the Johnsons undergoing an unexpected transition. In 2012, Carl had a stroke and was completely paralyzed, leaving him unable to return to work as a contractor. Rosita found herself taking care of him, her mother, and working from home simultaneously. She said, “I thought to myself, ‘There has to be something we can do from home.’ I had always wondered what it would be like to live on a farm.”
A year later, the family found a farm to rent. They started with 13 chickens that had been gifted by the landlord, then ducks, pigs, cows, and goats. Johnson added, “And it spiraled from there.”
The Johnsons taught themselves to farm through Google and YouTube videos, and, despite the steep learning curve, were undeterred. Farm life was also good for their daughter, who lost 112 pounds and experienced health improvements because of the fresh air and long walks she took around the farm.
In the fall of 2019, the Johnsons welcomed another addition to their family through Lifesharing. Johnson explained, “Donna is 73, and she requires a lot more care than Carla. She’s a spunky lady and keeps us going.”
While Carla goes to a day program during the week, Donna stays home with Carl and Rosita. “On a typical day,” said Johnson, “Donna will take the eggs and put them in the cart. As long as she’s sitting down, she’s able to do small tasks like that.” She continued, “The animals have a therapeutic effect on her. She likes her moo-moo cow, the cats, and kittens.”
The Johnsons have been busy in other ways, too. Rosita received her bachelor’s degree in Christian Studies in May and is beginning a Master of Divinity program, which she hopes will translate into a job as a Navy Reserves Chaplain, “God willing.” Most days Carl works on the renovation of their new farm in Coplay, PA, where the family will be moving in August. Despite having no mobility in his left arm from the stroke, Carl and his electrician son have done all of the work themselves. “It’s hectic, needless to say! But we manage to make it work,” said Johnson.
Also helping them make it work has been RHD. “They’ve been a tremendous help – whatever we need, whether it’s services or support, or just someone to listen to and to vent because there have been challenges along the way. They offer their advice, their experience, and a listening ear to help us through things.”
RHD has years of experience in developing home and community-based supports for individuals who may have extensive and complex needs. RHD’s Lifesharing model is based on the concept that people with disabilities have the right to everyday life; a life that is no different from that of other citizens. With the success of RHD Lifesharing in the Lehigh Valley, RHD has implemented the Lifesharing model in other states, including Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota, for hundreds of individuals who formerly resided in state centers and hospitals.
Abigail Storm, RHD’s Lifesharing Specialist for the Northeast PA region has worked with the Johnsons since 2020. She described Rosita as a “superwoman” and Carl as “incredibly funny, hardworking, and motivated.” Storm considers them gifted caregivers, and added, “The Johnsons ensure that the medical needs of the ladies in their care are attended to and their voice is heard, while also encouraging them with goals that promote more independence and gratification in their lives.”
Once the move to Coplay takes place and the pandemic has waned, the Johnsons’ future includes inviting other individuals with disabilities and children out to the farm to learn about growing food and sustainability and opening a farm stand in the community.
Rosita relishes her busy life and wouldn’t have it any other way, “Trusting God gives me the strength and the energy to do this every day,” shared Johnson. “You have to have faith, be determined, and keep a positive outlook no matter how bad things get. It may be rough today, but tomorrow it will be better.”