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Ray Johnson on Shared Living: "A Family Affair"

To Ray Johnson, shared living is a family affair. Three generations of his family—himself, his mother, sister, and nephew—have shared their homes with people with disabilities over the past 30 years. While there’s some debate between Ray and his mother (Ruth Johnson, who worked for Nonotuck for several years in the 1980s and 90s) as to the exact length of Ray’s tenure as a shared living provider, it’s agreed that it exceeds (or is about to be) 30 years. 

His story began with Frankie Plouffe, with whom he connected in the early 90’s, almost immediately becoming, as Ray puts it, “best friends.” Shortly before they met, Ray was living in Florida, taking a break from the human services field. When he heard about the model of shared living that Nonotuck was pioneering at the time, he knew it was time to come home.

There was tremendous uncertainty at the time; Frank was considered “high-need,” and the pair  (with Nonotuck's help) were breaking  new ground in choosing to share a home together. In spite of the challenges, (and with Nonotuck’s support), the two immediately thrived. The pair undertook activities as big as traveling all over North America for dog shows (Ray shows whippet and greyhound dogs professionally), and as small as eating at Frank’s favorite local restaurants. “We were inseparable—we went everywhere together,” Ray says. “We went to Canada, almost every state in the United States: we did it all.”

Living with Frankie taught Ray to be adaptable in his views. "He taught me things. He threw wrenches, as I used to call it. {I learned not to} assume." Frankie in turn flourished in their time together. “Frankie always looked down, he never looked up. He didn’t have confidence,” Ray says. “Within a few years, he had his head up high. From him walking stooped over, to walking with his head up and a smile on his face, he went from a grumpy old man to a sweetheart.”

Frankie unfortunately passed away five years ago, but his presence still looms large in Ray and his family’s life. “I still to this day talk about Frankie," Ray says, “ {He’s still} just a really big influence on my life. I’ve been in human services as long as I have because of Frankie.” 

Frankie is also still a topic of conversation for Robert O’Donnell, who began sharing a home with Ray and Frank about three years into their relationship. Read Robert and Ray's story in part 2.

“(Through shared living) people with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

Caregiving with Love:
Guide for Shared Living Providers

Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.

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