Welcome to Merica House

Merica House is home to four women and three men with a variety of severe physical disabilities. The Alliance for the Physically Disabled has helped to make possible the dream of Harry Merica for a home that would allow independent living for severely physically disabled adults. Too often the only option is living out life in a nursing home or other institution. By living together these adults can share the cost of rent, aides, and staff. Many people volunteer time, skills, and resources to truly make Merica House home for these seven.

Thank you for taking some time to learn more about this way to make life better and more cost effective for the severely physically disabled.

Cathy, Deirdre, LaRue, Matt, Maureen, and Sharita

Your Friends at Merica House



Eat for a Cause- A Success!

Thanks to all our friends and family who enjoyed a wonderful dining out experience at Pistone’s Restaurant on Oct 22. Owner, Telly Bonaducci,  and his staff served up delicious meals and a portion of the proceeds for the evening was given to Merica House.


Father Matthew DeForest

In the years since his ordination, Father Matthew DeForest has developed into an engaging and dynamic priest with a gift for delivering inspirational homilies. DeForest’s words vary from week to week, but the essence of his message remains consistent. “People of hope,” he tells the congregation, “must live differently.”

One way in which Father Matthew lives differently is in the work he undertakes to nurture his own unique “pots of gold.” In the fall of 2011, DeForest took interest in a gentleman named Sean Wawrzaszek, a 45-year-old resident in a private condominium known as Merica House. As with other residents of Merica House, Wawrzaszek was afflicted with cerebral palsy. Wawrzaszek’s disability prevented him from manipulating his fingers or articulating words; he depended on a touch-sensitive computer linked to a speech synthesizer to convey his thoughts. With Wawrzaszek’s lack of manual dexterity, forming sentences on the computer was a formidable task. Wawrzaszek had to repeatedly cursor through characters and words projected on his monitor to transform his thoughts into meaningful expressions. The process did not lend itself to quick conversations. A routine exchange could take several minutes.

On one occasion, Wawrzaszek, a practicing Catholic, was particularly distressed. He believed there was an effort underway to discourage him from attending Mass at his favorite church. Upon learning of the situation, DeForest paid a visit to Merica House. Talking through his computer, Wawrzaszek asked if it would be okay for him to change religions. It was a question that Wawrzaszek did not pose lightly; his family was steadfastly Catholic. Family tradition notwithstanding, Wawrzaszek wanted a church that would welcome him on Sundays, whether Catholic or not.

DeForest spoke to Wawrzaszek at length, with words designed to soothe the anger. After assessing the situation, DeForest proposed a simple solution. “You know,” he told Wawrzaszek, “we could do a Mass each month right here at Merica House.” With that simple gesture of caring, a glorious smile came over Wawrzaszek’s face, a smile that spoke volumes. In the months after DeForest’s conversation with Wawrzaszek, Father Matthew’s monthly Masses became a staple at Merica House.

The “congregation” included Wawrzaszek as well as fellow Merica House residents Cathy Parr and two sisters, Deirdre Shields and Maureen Shields.

Sean Wawrzaszek passed away, unexpectedly, in August 2013. Nonetheless, DeForest continues his practice of celebrat-ing Mass once a month at Merica House. On each occasion, DeForest delivers a stirring homily for the Merica House residents, sometimes focusing on the joy that came from the magnificent smile of their friend Sean Wawrzaszek or the grace with which Wawr-zaszek accepted his physical limitations.

DeForest likes to tell people that “homily material is all over the place.” On any given Sunday, his homily material may come from Thomas Aquinas or Mother Teresa, but it is equally likely to come from Sean Wawrzaszek or former pro football player Curtis Martin. In his homilies, DeForest encourages parishioners who are in search for inspiration “to look to the Cross.” Echoing the advice once given to him by the rector at his seminary, DeForest reminds parishioners, “When you are out and about, remember to smile.”

On a Sunday evening late in 2013, DeForest opened a homily at St. Anthony of Padua Church by playing a recording of Bill Withers’ 1972 hit song, Lean on Me. DeForest used the song to launch into a reflection on the special ways in which Christians can provide solace and strength to others.

DeForest finds more good in the world than bad. He adheres to the belief that if people only dare to dream big, it is possible to change the world “one word, one footstep, one burden at a time.” For inspiration, DeForest invokes a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, “Disturb us, O Lord, when our dreams come true because we dream too little, when we have arrived in safety because we have sailed too close to shore.”


English Tea Party

Scones and TreatsOn May 10, 2014, Jeanie Hume and Debbie Pena, long time volunteers at Merica House, took to their culinary skills and hosted an English Tea Party for our residents and their family and friends.

Jeanie, who has lived in England for several years, and Debbie wore white laced aprons and fabulous hats. They served chicken salad tea sandwiches, cucumber cream cheese sandwiches,  scones, quiches and fabulous desserts.  The tea was brewed from tea leaves and served in the finest china.

We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company in a most fashionable way while feasting on a wonderful array of trays of delicious treats.

We thank them for hosting a beautiful afternoon for our residents and their friends.


News from Matt

Matt RenfroSpring 2014

Matt moved into Merica House in 2009. He likes to watch sports and game shows on television. He is a serious sports fan. His favorite sports are tennis, golf, and college basketball.

When asked what he likes best about Merica House, he said he likes being with his friends. He enjoys watching Catch 21 and Family Feud with Dee and Sharita.

Matt’s favorite foods are chicken pot pie, Mexican food, and cake.


News from La Rue

Spring 2014

LaRueLaRue moved into Sean’s room shortly after the first of the year. “I enjoy having my own room,” says LaRue. Since LaRue moved into Merica House in 1988 he has had 6 or 7 roommates. He commented “It’s nice not to be awakened by Aides coming in to care for a roommate. It’s a joy and a pleasure to have your own room and privacy.”

LaRue enjoys having more space for storage and to decorate. He recently purchased a new Bose radio and is having new furniture and television arriving soon. His new room has a great view of the outdoors and pool area. “The thing I enjoy most is the peace,” he says.


News from Cathy

Spring 2014
Cathy was one of the first residents of Merica House. This has been her home for a long time.

Cathy’s favorite thing to do is help people do online research and Facebook.

Her favorite food is fettuccine alfredo. Her favorite type of music is soft rock. Her favorite movie is “Fame” and her favorite TV show is Dukes of Hazard. Cathy is looking forward to Sharita’s confirmation at church. Cathy and Dee will be her sponsors.

Fall 2011
Three weeks ago, Mom and Michelle came over with the twins, Declean and Hope, now seven months old. It was a nice visit. I am so proud to be Tia Cathy! It’s neat to have two little ones in the family!

My friend, Sharita who is like a sister to me, pointed out to them that we gave them Build-A-Bears, we named Izzy and Dex. I can’t wait for them to grow up so that I can have more fun with them!

Here’s my picture as I got ready to go to Morna’s wedding:


News from Sharita

Sharita Smiling

Spring 2014
Sharita began going to Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church after Sean’s memorial service. She’s receiving instruction from a member of the church. His name is Tony. Every other week he comes to Merica House to discuss the Catholic faith with Sharita. Sharita’s sponsors at the church are Dee Shields and Cathy Parr. Her confirmation will be in June. Everyone is invited to the church for her confirmation in June.

Cerebral Palsy & Me:

The ability for people with CP to communicate is often impaired. My speech is impaired, but that doesn’t inhibit me from talking. I am determined to express myself so I help people to understand me by repeating myself multiple times, if necessary.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy can be very different between people. My symptoms are very severe, involving both sides of my body and affecting both of my arms and legs. I have some of the most common symptoms, including muscles and joints that are tight and don’t stretch or open up. They have tightened up more over time as I’ve aged. I have always used a wheelchair. I have abnormal movements of my hands, feet, arms, and legs while I’m awake. One of my friends calls my arms “chicken wings.”

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News from Maureen

Spring 2014
Maureen moved to Merica House on March 6, 2007. As to what she likes best about Merica House, she says “It’s like a family.” She Maureen-2014slikes being with Dee, her sister.

Maureen’s favorite activities are going out to eat, shopping, reading books on tape, and “hanging out” with Dee and the other residents. She also participates in church choir. She likes to go to church and she goes to SPARC twice a week.

Maureen’s favorite foods are pizza, chicken patties, rice, and chocolate cake. Her favorite shows are Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, King of Queens, Golden Girls, and The Brady Bunch.

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News from Deirdre

Dee Shields sang at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church.  March, 2014
Dee Shields sang at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church.
March, 2014


Spring 2014
Dee likes going to SPARC and the National’s baseball games. When she’s at home at Merica House, she enjoys sitting with Matt, Sharita, Cathy, and Roxane in the family room, watching tennis and game shows like The Price is Right. She also likes listening to music on 91.9 WGTS.

Dee’s favorite foods are pizza, spaghetti, and cake. Her favorite teams are all the Washington sports teams.
Dee had a birthday party at Merica on March 15. She enjoyed her party, especially opening gifts and having friends and family with her. When asked what she likes best about living at Merica House, Dee said she likes living here….”it feels like home with all my friends.”

Fall 2011
On Sunday, Sept 11, 2011, Maureen and I, our brother, Andrew, and his girlfriend Astrid went to a major league baseball game to see the Nationals play the Astros. Before the game, Maureen and I met the broadcasters who announce the games on MASN (TV station). Their names were Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo. We had a great time at the game, except we forgot to get a picture with the broadcasters, so we’re going to do that next year. Good news, the Nationals WON!