On a Friday afternoon in early autumn, Travis Dobson, Brian Krutzler, and their families unloaded boxes, set up bedrooms, and stocked the kitchen cabinets. Together they were moving Dobson and Krutzler into Berkshire Hills Music Academy’s newest group home––marking a personal rite of passage and an organizational milestone. Set on a quiet, tree-lined street in nearby Hadley, the four-bedroom residence offers “a supported living environment for our residents…[and] expands our housing options for individuals wanting to stay at BHMA and live in the community,” writes Executive Director Michelle Theroux. The process to obtain the house began more than a year ago as part of an ongoing partnership with the Franklin/Hampshire Department of Developmental Services (DDS) area office. Following the initial conversations, BHMA’s board of trustees approved the project and Theroux located a suitable house. The new residence, which is funded by DDS, provides Dobson, Krutzler, and future residents with a space to navigate living in a home with others, increase their independence, and participate in the surrounding community.
House Manager Eric Whittle oversees everything at the group home, both the skill building and recreational elements. As he explains, staff members offer personalized assistance and guidance to address the goals outlined in each resident’s Individual Support Plan (ISP). From cooking meals and taking trips to the grocery store, to doing laundry and shaving, Dobson and Krutzler get hands-on experience in an array of skills; Whittle compares it to “an everyday crash course on living independently.” Building connections among residents is another priority for Whittle––he promotes activities like group hikes at nearby Skinner Mountain, games of mini golf, and sporting events at UMass Amherst. These outings allow Dobson and Krutzler to get to know each other and engage with the culture of the Pioneer Valley. Whittle also organizes weekly dinners, where all house members come together to cook and share a meal. As additional residents like Alexandra Kirwan move in, Whittle expects the feeling of family and the potential of the house to grow.