When COVID-19 forced Gallagher Services’ residential sites into quarantine, Hugh Downey was spending his working days in the home of four men supported through the program. The group quickly became like a family.

Hugh, a direct service professional, had previously served as an employment specialist in the Gallagher day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He stepped into the new role because the pandemic closed the day programs.

Hugh Downey

Residents in Gallagher’s homes often have group outings. But with the state largely shut down, there was nowhere to go. They began tackling projects around the house – fixing a wobbly coffee table, painting a backyard shed, repairing and repainting the mailbox. They mulched, weeded, and planted the garden. They cooked healthy meals together, with some men cutting vegetables and others stirring the pot. They watched movies, or played card games—Uno is a shared favorite.

“We’ve just been keeping ourselves really busy, regardless of what’s going on,” Hugh said. “We’re all just getting along as a family.”

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While Hugh had previously known three of the men, he became more intimately involved in their lives, which also allowed him to witness dynamics within their relationships. At one point, Hugh drew a tree blooming on one side and decaying on the other to foster a discussion about how one person’s actions can affect others.

“One of the guys started having tears in his eyes because he felt like he was an instigator. … That just broke my heart,” he said. “That was, again, just a lovely experience. We’ve just been having these breakthroughs with one another, and learning how to cope with one another in the midst of what we’re going through.”

These moments have led to other opportunities to share values with each other and as a group.

“I’m a prayerful man, and … they’ll ask a lot of times if I’ll do a devotional,” he said. “Now they all want to pray, and they’re always praying right before they eat dinner.”

In June, Hugh received multiple Father’s Day cards from men and staff at the home – he is the only male employee at that home – and said the idea of serving as a father figure to the residents brought him to tears.

That feeling of family is an unexpected benefit of quarantine, and one Hugh hopes will carry on when the impact of the virus has eased.