Maryland’s The Ability Project

 August 8, 2013
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Over the last couple of months, the staff of M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC has been publishing weekly blog posts that focus on housing issues and housing programs for individuals with disabilities. Our blog has featured interviews with Jane Doyle, co-founder of the Center for Independent Futures, located in Illinois, and Doreen Cummings (JC&FS’s Shared Living Model), located in Massachusetts. We also published an in-depth look at Specialized Housing, Inc.’s unique home ownership housing model, also located in Massachusetts.

This week, we have chosen to take a look a housing program that is a little closer to home for us – The Ability Project located in Montgomery County, Maryland.

What is the Ability Project?

The Ability Project was created in response to the growing housing crisis that exists in Maryland and across the United States.  According to the project’s website, every year hundreds of families in Maryland have children with developmental disabilities that graduate from high school, and have little to no options for the future. As the Ability Project states, “while the state of Maryland provides (conditional) funding for vocational (work day) programs for the disabled, funding for residential services is reserved for only the most difficult cases, such as orphaned adults with profound disabilities. Ignoring the funding issues, there has been no apparent attempt to create a community in which adults with disabilities can live, learn, socialize, play, relax and otherwise enjoy the life to which most of us aspire (with varying degrees of success).”

Matthew Hurson and Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC) initiated The Ability Project in an attempt to address this issue. The program, which is operated as a strictly voluntary association, intends to create a “‘community within a community’ in which adults with developmental disabilities are able to live independently among their peers, fully integrated with the larger community with whom they related on a day-to-day basis.”

Although the Ability Project is affiliated with the CSAAC, it will serve adults with a variety of developmental disabilities, and will not be exclusively for individuals with Autism.

How does the Ability Project Work?

The Ability Project’s creators and volunteers associated with this project share a vision as to how the organization, community, and residences will operate – the ultimate goal of the Ability Project is provide the professional, social, and housing support needed for individuals with disabilities to be successful, contributing members of the community, while living independently.

The “community” itself will be divided into two sections: the Community Center Campus, and a number of private residences. Everything in the community will be a short walk to shopping centers, restaurants, places of employment, and transit stations. The Ability Project envisions extensive resident interaction with the surrounding community, and plans to organize outreach efforts to neighboring schools, churches, and municipal and private programs.

The Community Center Campus will act as the keystone of the entire community: it will house a social center for the residents (includes lounge areas, food service, party and recreation space), administrative spaces and classrooms for life skills education, and on site residences for temporary use by incoming clients. These temporary residences provide a place for new residents to reside while going through the assessment process, and learning skills necessary to successfully navigate the transitioning stage between home and independent living. The community residences, which will be owned or rented privately by clients and families, will surround the campus; on site staff will manage issues surrounding property availability and roommate coordination. (Note: please click here for a diagram of The Ability Project’s proposed layout.)

Essentially, individuals looking to live in this community will move into the community campus residence for a period of time, as they under go assessment, life skills education, and training that will help them transition from living at home to independent living. This time period is unique to each individual, and reflects his or her needs. In the case that the individual does not need this assessment/training period, it is possible to move directly into an on site residence.

According to the Ability Project’s website, “social service support will be provided by an on-site, non-profit social service provider under contract,” most likely the CSAAC. The service provider will deliver drop in residential support, transportation, and a variety of social activities and vacation options. Residential support services include residential life skills education and a 1:3 residential support service model for clients living independently; this will be during waking hours only. In addition to this, the social services provider will manage the residential/educational/social activity facility, housed in the Community Center Campus.

How is The Ability Project organized, legally and financially?

Legally, the organization will operate as a cooperative corporation, consisting of families and clients. When the cooperative corporation is established, it will be managed or controlled by a Board of Directors, which will be elected by the residents and/or their guardians. This cooperative corporation will own what the organization refers to as “community real estate,” or the Community Center Campus and the residences.

The program intends to access a capital grant to get the project off of the ground; if this grant is unavailable they intend to charge a refundable co-op entrance fee. The cooperative corporative intends to coordinate banking relationships to help families borrow the required deposit as a personal loan, secured by their interest in the cooperative, or a mortgage loan, secured by the family’s home.

Additionally, the project needs to be located in Maryland, so that participants are eligible for Maryland’s Transitioning Youth (TY) funding as well as any other programs offered by Maryland’s Developmental Disability Administration. The TY program provides funding for Maryland residents for employment, training, day supports and services. The Ability Project intends for residents to avail of as much public funding as possible, and parents and/or residents will be required to pay the remaining fees. For an example of how the program fee may break down, the Ability Project has provided an example under the Financial Vision section of their website.

How Can I Access This Program?

At this time, the Ability Project is not yet functional. They are in the process of acquiring the real estate, and fine-tuning the planning details and organizational details that are required to ensure the successful implementation of the program. Individuals wishing for more information can contact the program through their contact form. The program also has a need for volunteers, especially parents of children with developmental disabilities who may become clients in the future. Persons who wish to offer their services can visit this page on the organization’s website, and indicate their willingness to help via the contact form as well.

Thank you so much for dropping by our blog today; we were very excited to offer a potential housing option to families in the Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia areas. If you have any questions on housing options, programs, or any other issue related to special needs planning, give us a call, or check out our Overview of Residential Options and How to Plan Financially workshop. We are happy to deliver this workshop free of charge, in a venue of your choice. Have a great weekend!

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