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Peggy Dolney

Host Home Provider Aims to Strengthen Community and Communication for Members of Deaf Community

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More than two decades working as a professional American Sign Language interpreter taught Peggy Dolney how the ability to easily communicate boosts the quality of life for people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

She used to work as a video interpreter at a relay call center, which enables people with hearing or speech loss to make phone calls. Residents at group homes who used the service often told her about the loneliness they felt from having few opportunities for deep, meaningful conversations.

Staff at the homes would often know basic signs for words like “bed” or “eat,” but the lack of substantive communication stifled and isolated many residents in the Deaf community.

Their hunger for richer dialogue and deeper connections inspired Peggy. She hopes to provide people with disabilities who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing a home where they can freely express themselves and share new experiences in a safe, nurturing environment.

“It helps to be able to be more a part of a family when you have someone who can communicate with you,” Peggy said. “When someone wants to go out and do things in the community, it also helps to have someone with you who can help bridge that communication gap.”

Peggy recently worked with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota to become a Host Home provider. The Host Home service offers people with disabilities the benefits of living in a family home with support to lead an independent life in their community.

Providers like Peggy offer personal attention to the individuals in their home and work with them to learn how to strengthen social skills, manage money and maintain a home.

Peggy has already welcomed one woman with hearing loss into her home in August; she currently has room to add another individual.

Personalized Home

Peggy lives just outside of Little Falls in what she describes as a “Deaf-friendly” house.

She customized her home to be safe and convenient for people with hearing loss by installing a strobe light doorbell for her front door and the home’s bedroom doors to allow for privacy.

“Knocking obviously isn’t going to work, so the strobe lights let them know someone is outside their room,” Peggy said.

Her home’s smoke and fire detector system also includes both a sound alarm and strobe light.

When Peggy leaves the home, a team of respite workers who are Deaf and fluent in signing will be available to support the individuals who live there.

New Opportunities

As a Host Home provider, Peggy strives to both meet individuals’ needs at home and to support a fulfilling social life that best suits their interests.

Her sign language career helped her build a strong network of friends and organizations within the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community — connections she is eager to share.

“It’s important for people with hearing loss to be with other people who are like them to mentor each other,” Peggy said, “and to know that they’re not alone and they’re not the only ones who face challenges regarding communication.”

Some members of the Deaf community, Peggy said, can often miss out on important experiences growing up for a number of reasons: caregivers underestimate them, they aren’t aware of the opportunities available or they live in a community with few or no other Deaf people.

An avid camper, kayaker and traveler, Peggy said she looks forward to including individuals in activities she loves and introducing them to experiences they might not have the chance to try otherwise.

For the woman who currently lives with Peggy, even introductions to day-to-day tasks like driving a riding lawn mower or scanning items in a self-checkout lane have been exciting new additions to her routine.

Other activities could include going to a movie with closed captions, attending a theatre production with sign language interpretation or attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival’s annual Sign Language Saturday, when volunteers interpret the event’s variety of juggling, comedy and theatric performances.

“I think it’s important to set up those networking situations so people can search out and find something they already like to do, and find where it’s available to them in their language,” Peggy said.

Peggy looks forward to sharing her home, community and new adventures with another individual through Host Homes. Please visit our Host Homes for People with Disabilities webpage to learn more about Peggy and other Host Home providers, or contact us at hosthomes@lssmn.org or 218.821.9156.