Three men in their 20s celebrating their first Christmas season together as roommates may not seem like a big deal. But for the families of Ryan Davis, Joseph Gallagher, and Yannak Van, it is huge.
Davis, Gallagher, and Van all previously lived at Elwyn, a 163-year-old organization in Middletown Township, Delaware County, that provides services for children and adults with disabilities.
Last month, the three men moved into a three-bedroom home on a quiet street in Upper Chichester.
"We are still pinching ourselves," said Joe Gallagher, Joseph's father. "This is his home."
The emphasis of this program has been to place individuals in a community-based setting, said Angela Sands, the associate director for Supports for Living at Elwyn. Elwyn has about 90 group homes and plans to open 10 more this spring, she said.
For parents of disabled children, the everpresent worry is where they will live once they become adults.
"It didn't really hit us until we hit the 21 thing," said Joe Gallagher, referring to the age when those with special needs age out of school system programs. "He really required a lot of care."
Two years ago, Joseph Gallagher, who is autistic, was able to be placed in Elwyn. He still works on the grounds, shredding X-rays, Joe Gallagher said.
For the Gallaghers, the new arrangement is the best of both worlds. Their 23-year-old son has a job, lives in a home, visits on weekends, and is still under the care of Elwyn.
The home always has at least one staff member on site. On the overnight shift, there are two staff members who help the three men with their personal care and medications and cook meals, which are planned by an Elwyn nutritionist.
"It is an ideal situation," said Dawn Gallagher, Joseph's mother.
A few years ago, local businessman Caesar Crognale was preparing to invest in real estate when he heard Elwyn was looking for partners in the community willing to lease properties.
"It appealed to me," he said. "It was one way for me to give back some of the blessing I have had."
Crognale, 76, of Upper Providence, emigrated from Italy 55 years ago "with nothing," raised a family, is chief operating officer of Olympic Tool, and now owns Folsom Tool Co. with his two sons.
He bought the homes, then spent between $50,000 and $100,000 to renovate them to Elywn's specifications.
"They are wonderful tenants," he said. Elwyn handles all of the maintenance, he said.
At the Upper Chichester house, candy canes line the walkway up to the front door, which is decorated like a Christmas package. A large Christmas tree fills the living room, and Perry Como's version of "Winter Wonderland" fills the air.
The decor is more Pottery Barn than bachelor pad, with framed prints, fresh flowers, and a trendy glass jar filled with apples.
The cost for room and board is paid for with the residents' Social Security disability benefits, said Ronnisha Green, 24, a program specialist for Elwyn.
The inside of the spacious ranch house was recently renovated.
There are a fresh coat of paint, new carpets, handicapped baths and kitchen, and hardwood flooring, as well as extra-wide hallways to accommodate wheelchairs. In the finished basement are a laundry and office space for the staff.
Besides a few household chores - such as helping to set the table for meals - the three men spend their time listening to music and watching TV or movies.
There are organized outings, walks to the neighborhood park, and time away with their families.
"It is their home. They can do what they want as long as they are safe," Green said.