Local Goal Getter Sheila Oroschin founder of The Masters, a dream house

For this week’s Local Goal Getter, we had an invigorating conversation with Sheila Oroschin, who founded The Masters, an initiative that establishes houses in order to engage fully in society. The premises were transformed by the Masters into open social hubs for the neighbourhood and its residents. Partners use the facilities causing intensive collaboration with other organizations to achieve as many Sustainable Development Goals as possible. All are parts of the concept that strengthen the Masters, and without each part, it would not be as sufficient.

Experience through a personal journey

Sheila Oroschin was born in Amsterdam, studied law, and moved to Limburg at the age of 26 because of love. Sheila’s partner attended a hotel school, in due course opened a few locations in Geleen, Heerlen and Delft. In 1991 they went into business with a clothing company. At the time it was an economically oriented family, focused on efficiency and turnover. Over the years, they had 3 children, of whom Alex (1991) was born with a syndrome, Coffin-Siris or CSS, from which most children die in the first year of their life. Contrary to the expectations that experts had of Alex, he developed admirably. The focus for Sheila and her family was not on what Alex cannot do, but rather on where his talents lie, including good spatial understanding and photographic memory.

Life is arranged differently and for Alex this also meant going to special education where, unfortunately, they are largely taught in isolation from society. From Alex’s 16 to 18 years of age, they looked at locations where someone can receive secure housing and facilities for recreational purposes. In these locations, the emphasis is initially not on individual wants and talents. They did not want Alex to go to a location where his talents were going to be overlooked, but rather one that facilitates dreams. A location like that had yet to be created, and in 2007 it became The Masters.

A place where everyone can live affordably in an equal community, where people are seen and attention is paid to wellbeing and good health, offering security and strong public services.

A dilemma 

The Masters began with two private cars that, together with a group of eight young people, found an old garage in an industrial building and transformed it into a community hotspot. Becoming part of the community in the neighborhood instead of merely being seen as pitiful souls. It is precisely at the Masters that the guest is central, not viewed as a client or patient, instead their unique talents are made visible. 

In this neighborhood, there were two prominent challenges, firstly, there were many vacant properties and secondly, there was a general complaint about freight traffic for small parcels. The latter issue affected the property managers, residents and simultaneously is not sustainable, which the business owners did not feel great about either. The solution for too much cargo transport was actually already there, Binnenstadservice Maastricht. Binnenstadservice Maastricht provides a place for the goods of these entrepreneurs, who then determine the routes, which ensures that several trucks do not drive through the neighbourhood for a few parcels, but one load can be made for all parcels in the area.

The Masters looked at whether there is an element that connects these individualized islands of the neighbourhood, and whether they could play a role in this. 

At the time, they had asked whether Binnenstadservice Maastricht could give a speech at our micro public place, so that the solution would be known to residents, property owners, entrepreneurs and the administration, made available by the Masters. They held a consultation where everyone was welcome, “we expected a limited number of people, but in the end we had to share 50 cups of coffee with 150 people”.

Master to Master

The challenge presented earlier set the stage for Master to Master gatherings, which had the aim to place Masters in the locations of the entrepreneurs who were at the speech of Binnenstadservice Maastricht and beyond. These entrepreneurs could offer people a place of experience with the possibility of developing into paid employment.

Giving someone a real chance to participate in society, instead of a voucher for the fun fair

To prevent people from being employed on a misdirected basis, they organized “Master to Master” meetings every Thursday. Good results led to the establishment of a Master Food Service, where attention was paid to healthy food and nutrition, and the Masters Greenery, where people can experience the origin of food, cook together and distribute fresh supplies.

Home & community center

The ultimate objective for creating the Masters was to set up a location where people, including the Masters and students, could reside and be noticed, treated as normally as possible in a dynamic of young people carrying each other. The location should not be hidden, but instead in the center of Maastricht. 

It is not a pink cloud, it is possible, we exist and we have waiting lists

There are currently two locations, one in the Statenkwartier and one in Wyck, with the buildings set up as hotels. In Wyck, there is a balanced distribution of students, young status holders and Masters, one third each. After all, it is also important for young status holders to have a safety net. In Statenkwartier, there is a similar distribution but only between masters and students. Both locations have a micro-public place, a contact point where residents and community can go for anything, both for internal and external service. In addition, the locations have a UPS Service point, ironing and laundry service, which can also be delivered to people’s homes, and a common room for everyone. 

Nevertheless, the Masters keep housing and care separate and do not take away people’s hours of care, nor do they accept any funds for care, because they act from the conviction that healthcare funds should go to the actual support and not to the maintenance of buildings, for example. They consult with care providers about the reduction of care, and help map out which care is actually needed and which is not.

Ultimately, care is only properly provided if it leads to greater independence in the long run, and should therefore result into a reduction of care

However, a reduction of care hardly ever happens, because it also has effect on billable hours, and fewer hours mean fewer jobs.

In addition to the houses, we have set up a social restaurant in Statenkwartier called Vorkje Prikken. Those who live below the poverty line get a three-course meal for 4 euros, for those who live above it 7 euros.  An open and well-facilitated space where everyone is appreciated does something to people.

The world of healthcare

In 1991, Sheila learned about the world of health care, an industry in which a lot of money is involved, and where a disabled person, if you put it in black and white, provides billable hours and a job for another. In the world of care, it is too often the case that the person who should be the focus of attention, in other words the guests, fail to receive it. The Masters’ approach have shed light to some misconceptions. For example, in the first year of one of the houses, they saved €96,000 in healthcare costs, just by organizing the services around the individuals more efficiently.

The only reason I started doing this at all was because of Alex, a gift in this life, otherwise I would never have ended up in healthcare. Now I won’t stop until this has changed for a large group of people, which is probably a lifetime of work.

A source of motivation is the structure of the current care system; there is a lack of a direction that allows the work to actually run smoothly and enables people to develop their talents. It is based on what people cannot do instead of where their strengths lie. A lot of money goes into the intermediate bodies that are control-oriented, which does not help the individual, but yet requires a lot of time and money. Change is difficult but certainly possible. 

The Master’s overall goal is for people to have equal opportunities and only worry about their physical state, but not about rent, service charges, food, and clothes. If you have a foundation, you can settle down, work on yourself and only then mean something to someone else. Sustainable care is what a person really needs, the cost of which will automatically decrease when they have a safe home, and subsequently, there will be fewer calls for support. The residents’ care costs at The Master are decreasing, while the average is increasing.

The Masters operate from an open-source framework, thus anyone can access information from it. If there are concerns, they can even contact us. To date, we are only limited in our number of houses because the current system does not fully accept a method like this, but we are in a transition phase. In any case, we will not stop the enlargement of this type of houses, there should be more of them. 

Curious about their commitment

Take a look at the website of the Masters: The Masters

Author: Jo-Anne Jaegermann

Pictures: Jo-Anne Jaegermann