‘Part of Our Family’: Host Home Providers Offer Fun, Friendship and Support
Kerry Gersich can’t guarantee someone will catch a fish when he takes them fishing, but he knows they will have a great time.
His love for the outdoors developed at a young age while visiting his grandmother’s cabin near Big Fork— just 90 miles away from Bemidji, where Kerry and his wife Brenda live. After four generations, the cabin remains in Kerry’s family, as does his appreciation for being close to nature.
It’s where Kerry and Brenda feel most at peace — especially when they can share it with those they love. The couple relishes opportunities for friends and family to gather at the cabin to take in the area’s natural beauty and enjoy activities like camping and boating on the lake.
“I keep pestering friends to come up and see it for themselves,” Kerry said. “And when they finally do, they all say, ‘I should have come up here years ago!’ When we have our family up here, we all have campers, so it becomes a campground-type atmosphere.”
The Gersiches look forward to sharing these experiences, as well as their home, with someone new. The couple recently worked with LSS to become licensed Host Home Providers. Through the Host Home service, people with disabilities receive support to lead independent lives in their community while living in a family home.
Providers like Kerry and Brenda offer a family setting and personal attention to the individuals in their home. They can work with individuals to strengthen social skills and learn how to manage money and maintain a home.
‘Where I’m Supposed to Be’
Brenda currently works as a paraprofessional at a local high school in Bemidji. Working at the school, Brenda said, offers her a unique opportunity to get to know the students and build trust among the young people she supports.
“I get so much back from the kids I work with,” she said. “A lot of them come from difficult backgrounds and have had a hard life. I think some of the things I’ve been through help me connect with them.”
She discovered her calling for supporting people who have identified needs about seven years ago, when she started working in a supported living home for adults with disabilities.
She said that the friendships she established with the people who lived there confirmed that she’d found the right career path. Through her work there, Brenda honed her ability to reach people where they’re at, such as one resident she described as “a man of few words." He usually only gave one-word responses during conversations, but he quickly opened up when Brenda asked about his mother.
“He started telling me about how much he loves his mom,” Brenda said. “We both grew from that. I realized, ‘this is my passion — it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Kerry also built strong connections with the people Brenda supported. Some days, he was able to invite them out on the pontoon to join him for one of his favorite activities: fishing.
“They had a blast,” he said. “And I enjoyed the company — I enjoyed taking them fishing and getting to know them.”
Kerry said he looks forward to sharing his interests with the individual who moves into their home, as well as learning more about the things that they enjoy. Some favorite activities he and Brenda hope to share include ice fishing, snowmobiling and going to the movies during the winter.
When the weather is warm, the couple enjoys taking in the many arts and community activities the Bemidji area has to offer, including outdoor concerts, Art in the Park events and outdoor theatre productions.
The Gersiches also enjoy taking their camper to explore places like Minnesota’s North Shore. The camper has plenty of room for someone to join them, Kerry said.
Most days during the school year, Brenda works into the afternoon. Kerry is available for support throughout the day and can assist someone who moves in with whatever routine they prefer.
Part of the Family
Kerry and Brenda met five years ago. Brenda said Kerry immediately made her and her four children feel welcome in his life.
“The first time my kids met Kerry, they knew he was a friend,” Brenda said. “We can be loud and obnoxious, but we have fun. That’s what I love about my family, and Kerry has accepted them as his own. He’s a grandfather to some of my kids’ children.”
Brenda’s children are all grown, and the couple now shares their home with four dogs — including a rescue Brenda took in last year. They are eager to welcome another person into their home and their lives.
“We like being there for people and giving whatever we can to people who need it — including our friendship,” Kerry said. “We’d make someone who moves in a part of our family.”