Osprey Village: Independent Living Options for Challenged Adults
Author: Michele Roldán-Shaw
The desire for quality of life is basic to all human beings. Beyond just a roof over our heads, we want a comfortable environment in which we can be ourselves and order our lives as we see fit. This is no less true for intellectually and developmentally challenged adults.
“They have their own dreams and ideas, just like everyone else,” said David Green, director of development and marketing for Osprey Village, a non-profit organization with the mission of providing independent living options for mentally disabled people in Beaufort County. “Many of them would really prefer to live in their own place. I mean, how many 39-year-olds do you know who want to live with Mom and Dad?”
Group homes are one way that people with disabilities can live independently within a structured setting. However, no such facilities currently exist in Southern Beaufort County. While there are several group homes north of the Broad River, their limited capacities do not even begin to meet the region’s staggering need. Data from the 2005 census reveals that mentally disabled people comprise 5.5 percent of South Carolina’s population; this translates to roughly 7,000-8,000 individuals in Beaufort County. Existing facilities serve less than 30 mentally disabled people, and even as the waiting lists grow longer, state funding is unavailable.
Even more disturbing to Green and others is the fact that when families can no longer provide care for their mentally disabled loved ones, the state must step in and relocate the individual to a facility far from home. In such emergency situations, says Green, authorities can do nothing but “find a bed somewhere” in South Carolina.
“This causes a major disruption in their lives,” said Green, whose 27-year-old intellectually challenged son, Paul, plays the keyboard and is very involved in their church. “They’ve got enough going on without tearing away everything they know.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Susan Doubles, who has been involved with Osprey Village since its inception. She and other like-minded people decided to get together and see what they could do to bring the issue to public attention. When they did not immediately get the response they’d hoped for from local government officials and others in the community, they decided to act themselves.
“I called a friend and said, ‘We’re going to do this, honey; we’re going to make this happen for our kids,’” recalls Doubles, who lives with her mentally disabled 38-year-old daughter, Ericha. “We started out talking around my kitchen table, and from there we moved the meetings to Atlanta Bread Company.”
As the group coalesced, they formed Osprey—an acronym which stands for “Our Special People Reaching Out to Elders and Youth.” This reflects the vision of a cluster of homes which, instead of being sequestered in its own private environment, gives residents a chance to interact with members of the community at large. In particular, Osprey seeks involvement from seniors, who bring the benefit of their life experiences, free time and desire for companionship. Additionally, Osprey hopes to attract participation from young people.
After attaining 501© 3 status last April, Osprey formed a board of directors and went on to receive a Challenge Match grant from the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. Osprey is currently working to generate the $25,000 they will need to match the sum offered by the grant; they have held fundraisers such as a fashion show luncheon and a variety show with silent auction last month. In May, they plan to host a dance in Sun City.
The grant will fund the “research and development” phase of Osprey Village, which consists of getting the word out, finding potential members and supporters, choosing a location and planning the specifics of the village. Green’s investigations have shown that there are basically two existing models for this sort of community, and Osprey members have been in touch with people around the country to learn from their approaches to independent living. “The goal of all this research and development work is that sometime later this year, we’ll know where we are going to be, and we’ll be working towards getting some folks there,” said Green.
Representative of the senior population that Osprey hopes to connect with is Dr. Lee Bowen, a retired educator from Maryland. Having over 40 years’ professional experience, primarily working with programs to help the disadvantaged and handicapped, Bowen brings the expertise and incredible energy that characterize an active retirement.
“I thought I’d give Osprey a year, because I wanted to be fully retired,” said Bowen, who lives in Sun City. “But once I got to know them and saw how serious and dedicated they are, I wanted to do what I could to help.”
Recognizing that many people in Sun City have similar mindsets, Bowen is optimistic about the idea of creating an inclusive residential community like the one planned by Osprey Village. “I think it should be interactive, and I see a lot of mutual benefits in them working with the senior population,” said Bowen. “There’s a wealth of knowledge there, and all kinds of people and groups who are most anxious to help worthy causes.”
The fruits of this labor won’t come a moment too soon, as far as Susan Doubles is concerned. As a 68-year-old widow, she knows she must think ahead to provide a secure future for her daughter. The lack of local housing options for Ericha has given Doubles a mission, a personal stake in seeing to it that a dire need in her community is met. She pictures Ericha one day having her own place, where she can host get-togethers with family until the place starts to feel like home.
“Selfishly, I’m very comfortable having Ericha with me,” admitted Doubles. “But that’s not what’s best for her. What’s best for her is to get her living independently while I’m still alive and can help her make that tremendous transition. I’m trying to avoid an emotional upheaval, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”