Cheryl Allison was living with her adult son in Paradise Valley when she decided to make a change.
"He’s a professional man, he’s busy all the time, he has many activities," she said.
"I was alone in his great big beautiful house, and I got lonesome."
So Allison, 85, moved into the Green Paradise assisted living center near 44th Street and Thunderbird Road in Phoenix. Instead of going into a facility with dozens or even hundreds of residents, she chose a residential setting with just five other people.
She made herself at home right away, pulling weeds from the yard and picking lemons off the tree to make lemonade.
"I spent a lifetime keeping a big house and taking care of a family," said Allison, who raised 10 children. She didn’t want to be in a place where she couldn’t keep active.
Residential assisted living has become more popular in recent years, said Bill Gillman, acting program manager for assisted living licensing for Arizona. His office received 250 applications for licensure in the fiscal year ending June 30, up from the 100 to 150 it received annually in the years 2000 through 2002.
For many seniors, one of the scariest prospects is having to leave their homes and enter a care center. Residential assisted living aims to make this transition easier because it allows seniors to stay in a real home in an actual neighborhood.
In the East Valley, there are 324 assisted living homes with 10 beds or fewer. Statewide there are about 1,500.
Green Paradise, where monthly rates start at $2,100, operates homes in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Owner Shelly Lechter, 26, lives full time in the Scottsdale home with the residents as well as two cats, an umbrella cockatiel and a hamster.
"In the homes, they’re able to continue their own lifestyles and do what they want to do," Lechter said. "We’re just here to supervise."
Although Green Paradise in Scottsdale is licensed to house 10 people, only four residents live there — which means they get more attention, not to mention homecooked meals.
"I was particularly surprised with the meals, the menu and the quality of the food," Allison said. "Not that I’m a big eater, but I’m a little bit picky."
Lechter, who has a master’s degree in hospital care management, has worked at nursing homes and figured there could be a better way.
"It was so sad," she said. "You’d have people in the hall, and the workers wouldn’t even know their names. It broke my heart."
At Green Paradise, residents can bring their favorite chair, a TV for their room or knickknacks to personalize their bedroom and the home. They can help cook and bake or just relax in the yard, and a nonprofit group called Audrey’s Angels brings crafts and entertainment to the homes.
"You have to keep busy, or you’d go stark raving mad," said fellow resident Bea Hart.
Check it out
For information on residential assisted living centers in Arizona (those with 10 beds or fewer), visit www.hs.state.az.us/als. There, you can download a list of homes, including their addresses and phone numbers. You can also check a home’s official record from July 2002 to June 2003 to see if it had any complaints; click on "Enforcement Actions."
To see a home’s full file, visit the Arizona Division of Licensing, 150 N. 18th Ave., Phoenix. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or call (602) 364-2536.