The Lucky Apartment

The Lucky Apartment
“Hey Ivo, are you coming? The game is about to start. We need you at the “lucky” apartment.”

Austin’s default expression is a friendly smile but, in this case, even over the phone I can easily sense a very different emotion. He sounds worried and there is a reason for that. 

He has been my good friend and neighbor for more than 10 years. Austin is a resident of GoodLife’s Neighborhood Network – an intentional community situated within a wonderful Lawrence apartment complex just a few blocks away from my home. 

Each Sunday Austin and his roommate Robbie host a group of friends and neighbors for a Chiefs watch party. And I must be there because apparently every time I show up our beloved Kansas City team wins the game. The superstition doesn’t end there – we’ve convinced ourselves that we all must take specific seats while watching the game and I always bring the exact same snacks and soft drinks for everyone. Silly superstition or not, the fact remains that the Chiefs are yet to lose a game when all rituals are strictly followed. Hence, Austin and Robbie’s place has been labeled “The lucky apartment”. Today I am running late, and my friends are worried that I might rob the Chiefs of a valuable win. 

Truth be told, the games aren’t that important to me – I simply enjoy visiting Austin and the rest of my friends at the Neighborhood Network each Sunday. It’s a social interaction that has become an enriching, entertaining, and important part of my life.

The Neighborhood Network provides full range of supports and services for people with disabilities and barriers to independence and aging adults. What makes it different is how organically it has been woven into the very fabric of the local community. Austin has thrived for more than ten years at the Neighborhood Network, which uses unique supports and cutting edge iLink Technology to ensure highest level of independence, safety and privacy for its residents. 

He just likes to help people, including me. It’s just fun to be around Austin. I appreciate him so much!”
Gabrielle Purdy, Professional Neighbor

Austin grew up in Iola, Kansas but he shared with me that his dream has always been to move to Lawrence: “It’s my kind of town. Since I was a kid, I wanted to be right here in Lawrence. I love the college vibe, the downtown, all the restaurants and most of all – the Jayhawks! My favorite team – Rock Chalk forever!”

Before joining the Neighborhood Network, Austin lived in a group home in Kansas City, but this arrangement was not ideal. “I just needed my own home where I could have more independence and control. I wanted to do the things that I actually like.”

As it happens, the Neighborhood Network was the pathway to his dream. He has his own place now; with a roommate he chose in the town he has always loved. Erin Bush, the program director, considers him the heart and soul of the Neighborhood Network. Austin knows everyone – residents, neighbors, staff and the iLink remote support coaches and has a way of connecting people and making new friends all over the community. I should know – I’ve been one of those friends for over a decade now. 

Austin values his job at a local gas station and treats it with professionalism and punctuality which explains why he is one of the longest continuously employed workers there. Sometimes I can’t help but marvel at his never-ending energy, social skills and exuberance. 

Austin at his job.
Austin at work
Austin, out in the community.

When he is not at work Austin participates in the RISE day program and classes. He also takes full advantage of the many opportunities for recreation provided by the community. You can often see him exercising at the gym, swimming in the pool, or taking walks downtown. 

Austin appreciates good food and is a frequent customer to many of Lawrence’s eating establishments. He also loves to cook and has steadily increased his repertoire of dishes. The word around the Neighborhood Network is that his grilled cheese sandwiches are approaching culinary perfection. 

The Kansas Jayhawks are not the only college team enjoying his enthusiastic support. “I have family members in Arkansas, so I try to watch every Razorback game”, explains Austin. 

I find it curious that his other big hobby is solving jigsaw puzzles. He likes to challenge himself with ever bigger and more intricate puzzles. Sometimes they take weeks to complete and involve the help of his closest friend Amanda, who also lives at the Neighborhood Network. I’m not sure that his astonishing proclivity for puzzles is just a random interest. Once you get to know Austin, you’ll discover how much he enjoys eliminating chaos – taking things that are scrambled and putting them in order…. like a puzzle.

“My son has really found happiness in the Neighborhood Network. The most important thing: he has learned to be responsible.”
Amy, Austin’s Mother

Every time I visit the apartment I am astonished at how clean and organized everything is. Austin and Robbie take meticulous care of their place – the most telling testament of how much they love their home. 

Austin and Robbie hanging out in their apartment.
Austin and Robbie enjoying their apartment
Austin and his mother, Amy
Austin and Amy

Recently, Austin’s mother Amy shared with me her feelings about his life in the Neighborhood Network: 

“My son has really found happiness in the Neighborhood Network. The most important thing: he has learned to be responsible. He takes great care of his place and has become so good at managing everything: budgeting, planning daily activities, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc.”

Gabrielle Purdy who is a professional neighbor and provides support while living within the same apartment complex believes that Austin is one of the nicest human beings she knows. “He just likes to help people, including me. It’s just fun to be around Austin. I appreciate him so much!”

My personal friendship with Austin started because of GoodLife but has long surpassed the boundaries of my employment. If I am to retire tomorrow it will not change our friendship in any way. I will still be there on game day with snacks and soft drinks, high fiving my buddies each time the Chiefs score. 

This is the entire point of the Neighborhood Network. It connects people, builds natural collaborative communities, fosters friendships. This is what every human being needs. These are the building blocks of happiness.

Another cherished friend of mine is former Lawrence mayor and current Kansas legislator Boog Highberger. I asked him once what makes our town so special. He said: “Lawrence has character – a distinct personality. And it’s all because of its people. The city attracts unique type of humans – kind, creative and open-minded.”

So Austin, you are one of these people. There is a reason you love Lawrence. And there is a reason Lawrence loves you right back. 

I tried to write this story, but it was already written. By you, by this town, by its people, by the Neighborhood Network. It was already there in the ether of the good life – I just transferred it onto the keyboard.

And Austin, my friend…I am so lucky to have you in my life. In fact, every time I leave your place, I feel that this indeed is the lucky apartment. And it has nothing to do with the Chiefs. 

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