HICKORY FLAT — An effort to build an affordable community for people with disabilities got a boost Thursday when the Circle of Friends advocacy group announced it has accepted a donation of 262 acres of land near Ball Ground.

Circle of Friends founders Diane and Glenn Keen and Stephen Taylor said at their group’s meeting Thursday that they secured land in Ball Ground for their proposed community.

The property located at 1163 Bishop Road near Ball Ground is owned by Karen Cash, of Community of Hope, Inc., who donated the land to Circle of Friends after learning about their mission. Cash, along with her late husband Raymond, envisioned bringing people to their property.

“We wanted the land to remain as an open space for folks with developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and inner city youth to enjoy nature,” said Cash, who kept the property as such since her husband’s death in 2008. When the property caretaker Bill Campbell brought a Cherokee Tribune article about the Circle of Friends to Cash she felt aligned with the project.

“It was the right time to act,” Cash said.

Glenn Keen said the mission of Circle of Friends started years before its formation in January of 2019. Questions arose from the Keens’ concern for their son Haden, “What’s going happen to my child when I die, what kind of services can I get for my child, why do I have to travel so far for services?” that inspired researching existing communities such as Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon and North Street Neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina.

Their research showed those programs provided benefits such as:

♦ Socialization where young adults could have opportunities to do activities in the community, have fun and make friends;

♦ Supportive employment where they can flourish and develop skills and be productive;

♦ Supportive affordable living for different needs.

The Circle of Friends formed to share those findings and hold meetings every first and third Thursday at Hickory Flat Church to bring awareness to their goal and to establish social activities for adults with disabilities. With its new partnership with the leadership team of Community of Hope, Inc., both entities will work together to build an intergenerational residential community.

The preliminary plans call for a community of 15-20 single-family houses, a group home community consisting of 6-8 detached townhouses either duplex or triplex and a large area to remain as an open space with potential for a camp.

Costs for the proposed development are projected to be in the millions. Taylor expects to meet with Cherokee County planning and zoning officials with the preliminary plans drawn up by Robertson Loia Roof Architects and Engineers.

Other potential partnerships include the Beverly J. Searles Foundation, a not for profit organization that provides living services to elderly and disabled residents of affordable housing and other residential communities as a planning resource, Atlanta-based commercial general contractor Lusk & Co., and Habitat for Humanity for any assistance they can provide.

Taylor said what’s needed most right now are prayers and contributions. Fundraiser events will be announced on the Circle of Friends Facebook page.

“The housing component though will not be restricted to county residents only. We prayed for land in Hickory Flat and our prayers were answered. We’re still looking for Hickory Flat land, so keep praying.” said Diane Keen. Circle of Friends is also looking for a storefront in Hickory Flat to open a coffee shop.

Donations are being accepted by check payable to Circle of Friends, 900 Abbey Court, Alpharetta, Georgia 30004. For additional information email Stephen Taylor, executive director of Circle of Friends at staylor@circleoffriendsinc.org or Diane Keen, chairperson-elect, at dkeen@circleoffriendsinc.org.

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