FRED 2014 – More Housing Options, Increased Employment Opportunities, and Community Living

Thursday, April 3rd 2014

The staff of M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC spend a lot of time thinking, talking and writing about the special needs housing crisis that currently exists in the United States. As a company that specializes in financial and life planning for families with special needs (and also as parents and loved ones of individuals with disabilities), it is an issue that has caught our professional and personal attention. In fact, we have been so inspired by this housing issue that we have created an online housing information resource, the Independent Living Program and Housing Project database, which is designed to provide parents and families with the information needed to combat the crisis. As well, we are diving headfirst into our very own special needs housing development projects in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. (For more information on our special needs housing services, please contact us.)

Although we spend many hours analysing, dissecting, and spreading the word about the negative aspects of this crisis – i.e. the staggering numbers of individuals on waiting lists, the lack of physical housing space available to individuals with special needs, and the scarcity of government resources available to help these individuals – we feel that it is important to discuss the positive consequences of this crisis as well. Those of you who are currently experiencing difficulty finding housing for your loved one with special needs, and are dealing with the emotional and financial stress that accompanies this issue may not be aware of this, BUT, there is a silver lining.

Think about it this way – this crisis means that there are literally thousands of families, just like you, who want inclusive, community based living and housing options for their loved ones with special needs. AND, these parents, just like you, are willing to move mountains to make it happen. When that kind of motivation intersects with the incredible work ethic of families of individuals with special needs and the organizations that support them something wonderful happens – innovation.

That is what our blog is about today – innovation in the field of special needs housing. As such, we will be focusing on an incredible conference that was held just this past weekend that celebrates and advocates for innovation in the special needs housing market, as well as employment and community inclusion – the FRED Conference 2014.

What is FRED?

FRED is an annual conference hosted by the Golden Heart Ranch. (For more information on Golden Heart Ranch, please click here.) The conference is dedicated to the idea that “all individuals deserve to live their passions, and determine THEIR choice of the future they live.” During this weekend-long event, FRED gathers together “top thinkers, experts, families, and self advocates to share leading practices and accelerate approaches,” related to housing, employment, and community living for individuals with disabilities. The underlying purpose of the conference is to advance opportunities that currently exist, and create opportunities that do not.

The event itself is organized according to discussion panels on a variety of topics; for each topic, there were a number of speakers that were able to draw on different perspectives of living with a disability.  The topics for 2014 included workshops for parents looking to organize their finances, workshops for professionals looking to create communities, and topics devoted to avoiding isolation, living with purpose, discussions on housing models, and safety and well being, among many, many others.

How does FRED, as a conference, help?

The FRED website lists a number of benefits to the conference – according to organizers, FRED not only provides the opportunity for attendees to join a national coalition of special needs professionals and families with special needs, but it also provides essential information and helps to build valuable networks among individuals, organizations, advocates, etc. It also helps to inform individuals as to the current state of housing, employment and recreation for individuals with disabilities, and facilitates ongoing discussion and brainstorming as to how to advance the opportunities that are currently existing, and create ones that are not.

In our opinion, the conference is incredibly important and incredibly helpful for one reason: its blend of attendees, and the ways in which the event allows for the dissemination and sharing of information. As planners, we feel that information is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of any sort of venture. The information sharing at FRED flowed from a number of professional sources – but, most importantly, it also flowed from families and adults living with disabilities.

For example, one of the speakers under the “Employment for All” workshop was Tim Harris, a man with Down syndrome. Tim is the first individual with Down’s syndrome to own his own restaurant in the United States, Tim’s Place. (To learn more about this restaurant, click here to watch the video Tim’s Place Albuquerque: Service With A Smile.)  In addition to this, there were a number of self advocates that spoke under the topic Presume Competence: Self Advocates Speak!, including Neal Katz, Kelly Horton, and Sterling Hibbs.

It would be virtually impossible to list all the ways in which FRED helps individuals with disabilities live, work, and play according to their own choices – I’m sure that each participant and each attendee has his or her own story of how the conference affected them, and helped them on their journey to self autonomy.

For more information, or to attend FRED 2015…

If you want to learn more about FRED or the event producers Golden Heart Ranch, please visit their websites, and respectively.

As mentioned, this year M&L was unable to attend FRED due to scheduling conflicts.  However, we are very excited to announce that we have committed to participating in the conference for 2015! The details for next year’s FRED have yet to be announced, but stay tuned to our website,, as we will announce details as they become available.

If you or a loved one would like more information on housing options for individuals with special needs, or have any questions about special needs financial or life planning, please do not hesitate to contact us! We are always available  – you may also wish to check out the services and workshop pages on our website for a complete listing of the services we provide, and the ways in which we can help you secure a stable, productive and happy future for your family with special needs.

Happy Thursday! See you all next week.

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