This is not a story about a typical vacant house where hopeful residents can’t move in because of the cost to purchase it.
An empty house in Mahomet has everything needed — including some furnishings — except the finances to pay workers.
Nineteen months ago, the Champaign-based Developmental Services Center bought and renovated a home for individuals with disabilities but can’t hire enough staff members to open.
The utilities are paid monthly, the lawn is cared for, but if someone could open the doors, no one would be there.
It’s an issue that is front and center for Mahomet resident Ted Curtin, who has lived in the community for close to 35 years.
Two of his children, who have disabilities, 30-year-old Kyle and 28-year-old Megan, have been in Mahomet all their lives. They are living with their dad, who retired in February after 331/2 years working for the city of Urbana.
His children had been approved to live in the group home, with two others. Each will have his or her own room.
Kyle Curtin’s bedroom furniture was purchased and moved into what was to be his room.
"We thought everything was a go," Ted Curtin said. "We had a (celebratory) pizza party."
There’s one problem, one huge roadblock.
"Because of wage rates, we can’t find staff," said Dale Morrissey, CEO of Developmental Services Center. "We’ve advertised, we’ve done open interviews, created a TV commercial, radio ads, attended and hosted job fairs."
The state average for workers — known as direct support professionals — in group homes is $9.35 an hour. Morrissey said the DSC is willing to pay $11.06 per hour.
If all of the group homes in Champaign County were fully staffed, Morrissey said he could take a couple from another home and relocate them to Mahomet to help train new employees.
The fact is, he said, "we’re so short-staffed, I need to fill 12 more spots in current homes to be able to open the (Mahomet) home.
"Even though it has been 19 months, we’re committed and want to open this home."
Morrissey lost two valued workers — husband and wife Jessica and Josh Vandiver from Sidney — last fall. The couple has five children and couldn’t make ends meet with their combined salaries.
"Every day was a struggle to get through," Jessica Vandiver said. "You never know going to work if you’ll have enough people. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. The stress is difficult."
And yet, Jessica Vandiver enjoyed the work so much that she devoted nearly seven years working for DSC.
"It took me a long time to where I thought about looking for another job," she said. "I tried to push through for so long. I thought, ‘I don’t want to leave the people, but I don’t make enough.’ The longer you work, the closer you get to the guys. They’re like your family. You think about them and you worry about them. When you’re not there (at work), you’re there.
"It was the hardest decision I ever made. When I got the job (with Carle), I wasn’t sure I was going to take it. I had years of building relationships."
Both Jessica Vandiver and her husband are now employed by Carle, but that doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past.
"In order to have that job, you’ll have to go without some things," she said, "but the unconditional love you get changes your life. I felt so guilty leaving them. I never cried as much as I did on my last day there. It has been months since I left and I think about (the residents she worked with) every single day."
Last year, Morrissey was optimistic that change was near. Bills passed the Illinois House and Senate that would raise the minimum wage for caregivers, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it.
"If people can get paid closer to $15 (per hour), we hope to attract more people to these jobs," Morrissey said. "It’s hard work, but we believe statewide, we can compete with other entry-level positions."
Ted Curtin said it’s important to have trained and skilled caregivers for the residents.
"The quality of the people you want for your sons and daughters," he said, "is the best of the best. The DSC is after that. They want the elite people.
"The thing holding them back is the wage is barely above minimum wage."
To open the Mahomet house, Morrissey said there needs to be a guarantee that at least two full-time employees would always be on the premises 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He said he would need to hire "six to eight" workers locally in addition to a nursing staff.
Either a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse would be required because at least one of the residents would require the services. Megan Curtin is a diabetic and her father said, "she needs four (insulin) shots a day, one at each meal and one at bedtime."
Curtin’s wife, Debbie, is one of the persons who spearheaded getting a group home in Mahomet, he said.
She passed away in July, 2015. Ted Curtin is worried about what would happen to his children if he wasn’t able to care for them.
He’s not the only person with those concerns.
"It becomes a true emergency," Morrissey said. "Now, there’s not a place for people to go."
Ted Curtin said it was originally an easy decision to work with DSC over other organizations.
"The personnel they hired were polite, kind and a bundle of joy with the kids," he said. "It was not an 8-to-5 job for them. They interacted and cared about the kids. You could tell. They go the extra miles."
Kyle Curtin has been and is a familiar face around the Mahomet-Seymour boys’ basketball and baseball programs. He helps the coaches in any way possible.
"He goes to (baseball) practices and helps (coaches) Nic (DiFilippo) and John (Weimer)," Ted Curtin said. "Kyle is pretty self-sufficient."
As for himself, Ted Curtin has had to make changes since his wife passed. He doesn’t rise at 4 a.m. on occasion to go on hunting trips, but said, "it’s not a burden. It has given me more time to reflect on things and help Dale (with his efforts at DSC). Dale is pushing hard to try and get these bills passed. I want to help them out all I can because they are helping me."
As for invitations to social events, Ted Curtin has a standard policy.
"I use the attitude if my kids are not welcome, I won’t be there," he said.
Morrissey said the DSC doesn’t publicize the address of its group homes.
"The idea is they move in and fit into the environment," he said. "It’s not a special home."
And when — not if, he said — the Mahomet group home opens, Ted Curtin has a donation ready.
"I have a basketball goal for the kids to shoot hoops in the driveway," he said. "I bought it last November. It’s sitting in my shed."
When asked about the prospects the hoop might be used soon, Ted Curtin said. "I am upbeat about it.
"This is something my wife wanted to see, our kids in the group home. She worked as a volunteer at DSC and wanted to help get (other) people placed. When my kids are in the group home, it will be very emotional for me."
Meanwhile, Jessica Vandiver would like to think she hasn’t said goodbye to the DSC forever.
"I hope someday I can go back," she said.