I went to go visit one of the most remarkable women in the area last week. I wasn’t sure how much time I had left to go see her before it was too late and as I sat there talking with her I just knew I needed to write about her. She has a special needs son and worked their whole lives to provide a lovely upbringing for their son, Tim, along with the four other children in the house. When adulthood approached, Rose and her husband, Leo, decided they wanted to provide a home for not only their son, but for others with special needs as well. That was when the first Leo house was born.
Anyone who knows what it is like to not only navigate the world of special needs, but to create a new resource is aware of how difficult it can be. It does not just take a well-intended person, with leadership skills and a desire to make a difference in the world. It takes going through a lot of research, red tape, lawyers, city planners, volunteers, donors, and the list goes on. The Finnegans were determined to make this dream a reality for the city of Issaquah and surrounding areas. They have gone through a huge learning curve to make these things possible for their son, Tim.
I have watched Tim “grow up” for the last several years. We have seen him act in our shows and sing in our choir for many years now, and he has been loved, cared for and watched over in these homes created for this special population in our area. Here is an excerpt from the website for LEO (Life Enrichment Options) which owns and maintains three adult family homes (AFH) in Issaquah and is committed to developing more homes. AFHs are not to be confused with “group homes” or “supported living.” AFHs have their own classification. The model was adapted from the AFHs that serve the aged population and are for Medicaid qualified individuals. The goal is to provide a supportive, family-style housing solution to transition adults with I/DD out of the parental home.
As I visited with Rose Finnegan, I thought of the hours her husband put into the soapbox derby, and all the support she gave him with storing these cars, organizing the races, setting up the dates and times for all the people who show up to make it all happen. This whole idea started when they saw how much their son loved being in a car with another driver. They decided to get more cars and let more of his friends join in, and now they own an entire fleet and have been doing events for the special needs population for many years, pairing special adults and children with young volunteers in the community to be the drivers. They found sloped areas in several cities and would “race” the cars driven by youth, supported by first responders, police and even closed roads for the special events. The Rotary supported with a free lunch after the festivities, and gave awards to all the participants. They are operating multiple opportunities where the rubber hits the road…. literally.
If you met Rose and Leo Finnegan, you would wonder how all that energy and power could come from these small frames. As a family they have moved mountains, and even with the two of them coming to the end of their mortal existence, they are completing the preparations for the fifth home to open up. How they did it, amongst all the stresses of life, while supporting the other members of the family, is mind boggling to me. I am simply grateful.
Amy McOmber is a 23-year resident of Sammamish.