PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — After being forced to move from one home for people with disabilities three years ago, Taylor Baxter didn’t want to have to do it again.
Thankfully for Baxter and his family, he didn’t have to. Lafayette House, which had been in danger of closing, will continue to be home for Taylor and 11 other people with developmental disabilities.
“All the people make this place special,” said Taylor, 26. “I love going to camp — that’s one of the things I love doing here.”
Last Sunday, the house’s 12 residents, its two house managers, Julie and Dennis Barratt, as well as friends, family and well-wishers, were on hand to celebrate the successful efforts of the Friends of Lafayette House to keep the home open.
“We came together and said, ‘No, that’s not happening,'” said Melanie Merz, vice president of the Friends of Lafayette House and sister of one of the residents. “My brother always wanted to live with this independence — he didn’t want to live with his parents or his sister. He’s grown exponentially in his work and his interpersonal skills with people. This has been a great opportunity for him to grow.”
One year ago, the home on Lafayette Road, right next to Portsmouth High School, was slated to close by Great Bay Services, which owned and managed the house for more than 30 years, after it decided to realign its agency and leave the residential services sector.
Over the the next few months, Friends of Lafayette House formed a partnership with Community Home Solutions, a Seabrook-based housing nonprofit, according to the home’s web site, and kept the home open.
The Barratts, who have been married for 20 years, have lived at the home for the past 14 years with their two dogs, and have worked as the home’s caretakers.
“It’s so much more than a job,” Julie Barratt said. “They really are our family.”
Even though the Barratts are the caretakers, everyone who lives at Lafayette House has a role to play.
“Everyone has a household chore they’re responsible for — one does the recyclables and the garbage, one does the mopping of the floors in the kitchen and dining room,” Dennis Barratt said. “We all participate pretty much in one thing or another.”
Brian Woodburn, 39, is a 13-year resident of the home who works at Market Basket on Woodbury Road. He said he likes going to the movies, camping, and hanging out with all his housemates.
“I like hanging out with people, going places in activities with the whole group,” Woodburn said.
On Saturday, residents of the home participated in the Portsmouth holiday parade and tree lighting.
“Fun,” said Taylor Baxter. “Fun, fun, fun. Just the whole holiday thing.”
Taylor’s father, David Baxter, said Taylor had been living in a group home, run by a nonprofit organization, that ceased operations three years ago. When an opening at Lafayette became available last year, David said they “jumped on it,” only to find out shortly thereafter that it, too, was in danger of closing.
“Great Bay Services is a great organization, but like all nonprofits, they struggle for money,” David Baxter said. “There’s limits — you try to make a go of it. It’s impossible to break even, but with the fundraising, we try to keep everything open.”