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Parents’ plans, efforts yield home for developmentally disabled children

BRANDON, Fla. (BP)–As parents of a developmentally disabled child, Brenda and Peter Watkins felt the best place for their daughter to receive personalized, supervised care was at home. But as their daughter grew to adulthood, they began to ask, “Who’s going to take care of her when we’re gone?”
They weren’t the only ones asking that question. Other parents of grown children in the special education department at First Baptist Church, Brandon, Fla., were concerned about their children’s futures.
Most of their children had always lived at home, were used to one-on-one care and had been raised in a Christian environment. They didn’t want their children to face the burden of losing their caregivers and their homes at the same time.
Those parents decided to form a group home where their children could learn to live semi-independently in a structured environment but still have the reassuring presence of their parents nearby.
After five years of planning, licensing and fundraising, New Horizons Group Homes Inc. of Brandon is set to open in April. Located a half mile from First Baptist Church, the home is equipped for six women. Plans are being developed to build a men’s facility on the property.
“This way, we know our children will get the care they need in a loving, Christian environment,” Peter Watkins said. “They already know each other and can stay, live and grow together. This provides stability for them and peace of mind for us.”
The parents raised money for the group home through garage sales and selling Christmas ornaments of area landmarks each Christmas for several years. Watkins said establishing the facility took longer than expected because they didn’t use any government funding — a choice made to insure that they would be able to set many of their own guidelines.
Watkins explained state-run group homes frequently transfer residents because of overcrowding or behavior problems. New Horizons is designed as a long-term facility with Christian-based standards.
New Horizons is funded through donations and resident contributions from their wages, grants and Social Security checks. A $12,000 admission rate assures residents a place at the home as long as they want, Watkins said.
Florida Baptist Family Ministries provided consultation to the Brandon parents on how to establish a supervised care facility for the developmentally disabled.
Margie Bruszer, FBFM program administrator, said some steps in forming a group home are:
— Identify the people the ministry will serve and determine their needs.
— Identify property or facilities, preferably in a neighborhood setting, and determine how many residents can be accommodated.
— Evaluate the design of the building for special needs, such as wheelchair accessibility.
— Determine licensing requirements, including the number of residents allowed.
— Include building and operation costs in determining a financial base.
— Identify candidates to be houseparents/caregivers.
— Establish a screening and hiring process.
— Assess the need for, and availability of, medical and dental services and employment opportunities.
— Coordinate activities with other community resources, such as sheltered workshops.
— Gauge prospective neighbors’ receptivity to a group home by addressing any fears or uncertainties beforehand.
For more detailed guidelines on how to form a group home, contact Florida Baptist Family Ministries at (941) 687-8811.

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  • Kristi Hodge