Almost Home Kids, according to its website, is "a pediatric, short-term care home that services children who are medically fragile." The Naperville-based business is poised to double its operation size through a Chicago expansion.
One of the employees there is openly lesbian case manager Layenie Anderson.
The Scottish-born nurse has been with the Naperville nonprofit since 2007working to connect families with medically fragile children to suitable care. On a sunny Sunday morning in early September, Anderson bustled about the short-term care facility, making sure prescriptions were filled, patients' siblings were entertained, and trainee employees were comfortable with procedures.
For Anderson, caring for others has always come naturallyalthough it was not her first career choice.
The would-be performer studied dance in college before taking time off in 1996 for a one-year nanny position in the United States. Anderson had briefly worked as a nanny in Australia when she accompanied her mother there on a teacher exchange program; Anderson adored the experience.
"I've always loved kids, ever since I was a child myself," she said. "I've always been the mothering type."
She found similar joy as a nanny in the United States.
"I thought, 'Well, I'm not very good at dancing and acting, so maybe I won't do that after all,'" Anderson said with a laugh.
When she returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, she studied nursing with a focus on neurology and pediatrics. After three years in Edinburgh hospitals, Anderson returned to the States eager for a change.
"I hadn't planned on staying here [in America] for more than a few years, but then I met my partner," she said with a smile.
She and Elizabeth "Ibby" Grace, an education professor at National Louis University, were introduced in 2007 through Grace's sister. The pair began dating long-distance (Grace lived in California at the time) and, after a 2008 move, decided to enter into a civil union.
"When it was briefly legal in California, we set it all up and organized it," Anderson said. "We had a big ceremony planned. My family came from Scotland, and her family came from Chicago. People came from all over, and then the whole Prop 8 thing happened, and it wasn't legal [anymore]. We went ahead and did it anyway. Everyone had tickets booked."
The pair opted for a holy union in San Francisco in 2009. In February 2012, they held a civil union in Chicago. And while neither the holy nor civil union has any federal sway in the United States, the United Kingdom recognizes the couple's Illinois civil union.
"If we were ever to move [to the United Kingdom], the [country] would recognize [Grace] as my partner, and she would be able to come in without a job because she's my partner," Anderson said. "Whereas, I would never be able to live in the U.S. without a job. I have to have work sponsorship from Almost Home Kids [or someone else]."
Anderson said the legal complexities surrounding her union and visa status can often be frustrating, but "we're pretty cheerful people, so we just do what we need to do."
That cheer was augmented in January of this year, when Anderson delivered twin sons Benjamin and Joseph, who were conceived through the in vitro fertilization. Anderson grins when talking about her boys, who recently experienced their first trip to Scotlandkilts and all.
"[My partner and I] keep joking that because Scotland has now announced that they're going to make same-sex marriage legal in the U.K., that we're going to go back over and do another ceremony so [my family] can come. I mean, three unions? Why not?"
When Anderson switches topics from her sons to her Almost Home Kids clients, she continues to beam with the same sense of pride.
"The families with kids with special needs are just really special," Anderson said. "There's just something about them, where they've got that extra something."
In her role as case manager, Anderson trains families to use the medical equipment (e.g., breathing apparatuses, wheelchairs) that their children rely on for survival. During hospital stayswhich can come after surgery, illness, or freak accidentschildren are connected to complex gear that parents often find intimidating.
"[Families] are so overwhelmed in the hospital that, a lot of the time, they don't take it in, "Anderson said. "After training them on the same equipment they'll use at home, the parents know exactly what they're doing. Their confidence level just soars. There's a much lower rate of readmission to hospitals after they've been trained, and the stress level goes down as well."
Anderson helps families figure out logistics and troubleshoot.
Almost Home Kids also offers much-needed respite stays, during which parents who need to take an older child to college, travel for a funeral, or simply take a break, can leave their special needs children at the facility for a few days.
"We find that families in our respite are able to manage at home for longer," Anderson said. "If they know they've got a break coming up, they can keep going… [and not] burn out. For the overall mental health of families, it's just a wonderful thing. And when some kids come here, they say they're coming to camp."
Tucked into a quiet residential community, the Naperville facility is outfitted with a large playground, wheelchair-equipped swings and picnic tables, and flower and vegetable gardens. Children get excited when deer graze from the site's feedersa site Anderson notes the kids would never get in a hospital.
"The kids have so many visual and tactile experience here," she said. "It's part of what makes this facility so special."
For more information on Almost Home Kids, visit www.almosthomekids.org .
Also please see related feature at the link: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Almost-Home-Kids-unveils-Chicago-site/40283.html