A Cherokee County social service group is exploring ways to fulfill the long-term needs of residents with developmental disabilities, including building a place for them to live.

The group, Hickory Flat Circle of Friends, is holding a town hall meeting for people interested in the topic at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hickory Flat United Methodist Church, 4056 East Cherokee Drive in Canton.

Stephen Taylor and Dr. Diane Keen formed Circle of Friends after discovering they shared a similar philosophy regarding people with developmental disabilities.

“We learned the three most common needs for the developmentally disabled in community are socialization, jobs, and adult living,” said Keen, an assistant professor of nursing at Kennesaw State University.

Taylor is the founder of SNs360.org, a nonprofit with a mission aimed at redefining the disability community. Keen and her husband Glenn are parents to an adult with autism.

Through his work as Special Needs Ministry Director at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, Taylor said he has encountered hundreds of parents concerned where their disabled child would live after the parents die.

“I realized someone needs to step up and provide a solution because for years there has been lots of talk but no action,” Taylor said.

The Keens recognized a need for supported employment opportunities for their son and the developmentally disabled community as a whole.

“We’re looking to create a place where people would be understood and mentored to succeed in life. We have to start some place. The basis of this is love and to be able to give opportunities to family members,” Keen said.

Intent on meeting with people to exchange housing ideas, Taylor and the Keens held two exploratory Circle of Friends meetings. Participants were surveyed to help identify the needs of the developmentally disabled in the community.

Taylor and the Keens described their vision of a housing development of small homes for developmentally disabled people.

“Ideally the community would house (approximately) 15-25 adults with developmental disabilities, plus 25-30 affordable elder housing units, and 10-15 units for non-disabled college aged persons who could potentially live rent-free in exchange for caretaker assistance. We’re searching for a 10-acre site in Hickory Flat,” Taylor said.

Taylor sees sustainable employment opportunities within the development and shared ideas such as an on-premise thrift shop, a recycling center, a doggie day care and arts programming are all self-sustaining possibilities.

“This whole process is in very early planning stages, but we’ve doing research and consulted with a grant writer and an architect for preliminary concepts. Our goal is to get a commitment from 15 families and four families have expressed interest,” Taylor said. “That’s why we’re having this conversation. We need to get boots on the ground as well as find land. Hickory Flat would be a good fit for this development.”

Heather Daily Executive Director of Empower Cherokee, formerly Cherokee Day Training Center, an agency that provides support services for individuals with Intellectual Development Disabilities, said housing is an issue for those with IDD.

“Often times when people need to leave the family home there are not enough options for supported living in Cherokee County and people end up having to move to other communities to find a group home or host home that will work for them,” Dailey said. “Affordable housing is also limited which makes it challenging for people with IDD to live on their own with support limiting their ability to live the most independent life possible.”

Taylor said, “The need for housing for adults with disabilities is at a crisis level and unfortunately, there is simply not enough options out there. As a result you have hundreds of adults with disabilities in the Atlanta area needing a place to live because their parents/caregivers are aging and not able to provide adequate care.”

A priority for SNs360 is to seek out partners in the community to provide solutions to address this problem, Taylor said.

“It is important to have a mixture of multi-generations within the community because this reflects life. Seniors need to remain active and involved to help maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Taylor said. “Adults with disabilities need to have a sense of belonging and not being ignored. College students require experience, which may lead to transformative ideas. Essentially all three of these groups need one another, and the result is a greater sense of community.”

Attendees at a recent Circle of Friends meeting suggested the proposed housing community have a social worker and nurse on staff. Madeline Collins said occupancy in this kind of housing would greatly depend on the level of disability a person has, referring to her son Ben, who has more than one disability.

Circle of Friends planners state their goal is threefold:

♦ To build housing in the Hickory Flat area by the year 2022, to include both adults with developmental disabilities and senior citizens;

♦ To provide a place of business in the Hickory Flat area that employs adults with developmental disabilities; and

♦ To provide twice monthly socialization opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.

Circle of Friends meets at Hickory Flat United Methodist Church on the first Thursday of each month and will have an outing on the third Thursday of the month. For more information visit: www.facebook.com/hope.circle.50.

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