“Please take off your shoes,” Matt Dunham asks of all his visitors upon entering his apartment at Pearl Place in the Bayside neighborhood of Portland. He's lived in his apartment for 3 years now, and it took him a while to find the right fit. As with any young adult in today’s economy, Matt has tried a variety of living situations since graduating from the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. He spent a year in congregate living, but found it difficult to share his personal space with people who had differing lifestyles. He spent a year at the YMCA as well, but when Pearl Place opened its doors in July of 2008, Matt jumped at the opportunity to move in right away.
“I love the open space and natural light that the large windows allow in,” says Sandi, Matt’s mom. She and Matt are in a steel drum band together. Matt’s career as a student at the Berkshire Music Academy developed his passion for music, and it’s a huge part of his life to this day. “My mom is musical; when we play together I call it music history!” Other members of their steel drum band testify that Matt’s enthusiasm is infectious and that he even plays the kit on a few of their steel drum songs.
Beyond their steel drum band, Matt and Sandi attend concerts frequently. “Concerts are a passion of ours,” Sandi explains. “Recently we saw ‘Swan Lake’. It’s very important for both of us to experience culture like that.” On top of that, Matt enjoys going to Bull Moose to add to his impressive CD and DVD collection, and has a book shelf full of entertainment, video game, and music (mostly heavy metal) magazines that he reads avidly.
Matt’s living location is ideal for his lifestyle. He works at Whole Foods and recently has started helping the chefs doing a lot of prep work for them. When asked what his favorite thing was to cook, Matt thought hard and eventually said “I can’t choose. Can you just write that?” He has many friends at work, and is clearly close with many of them as he recounts stories fondly about his coworkers, some of whom live right at Pearl Place with Matt.
Along with walking to work, he can also walk to his day program where he does a lot of activities such as swimming and hiking. He enjoys racquetball and basketball, and though he dislikes lifting weights (who doesn’t?), he understands the importance of staying active and works with a personal trainer to help keep himself healthy.
Matt has a great sense of community and service. When he first moved to Pearl Place he was on the tenant’s council helping them create facility-wide safety plans. He also continues to volunteer for the Red Cross. In every avenue Matt chooses to pursue, what stands out most about the way he tells his story is his connection to people, whether it’s his coworkers, friends, or family. At one point he brings up his younger sister and her boyfriend (who Matt predicts will one day get married). “Do you get along with your sister?” I ask. Matt nods emphatically. “We’re best friends. One time we went down to Florida with no parents. We went to the water park, the beach, to mini-golf, and the naval museum. “
In the context of such a busy life, balancing work, exercise, music, service, and recreation, what kind of role does his apartment play? “I feel safe.” Matt turns to his mom and says “You don’t have to worry about me so much here.” Sandi agrees with her son. “We know Matt is in a place that’s nice, where he feels comfortable. Avesta has been responsive to maintenence calls, and the building is secure. He’s happy, so we’re happy.” Matt will likely never experience total independence, but with the right balance, he has found a place where he can gauge how much freedom and how much support he needs to lead a productive, contributing lifestyle. With someone as engaged and engaging as Matt, it’s good to know he has that solid base from which to jump off into the world and go out and explore.
Resident, Pearl Place