Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea to rededicate newly renovated residential hall as Chelsea nonprofit aims to serve more families
CHELSEA — Norm Neuman knows it can be a challenge to cut through red tape when it comes to making sure his adult special-needs son, Joe, gets all the services he needs.
Though Joe currently lives with his father, and Norm has made arrangements for his son after his passing, the state often splits aging parents from their adult children with special needs, Neuman said.
“They face a future that is dependent on support by caregivers and community agencies,” Neuman said. “They will face many obstacles over their lifetime, and they need us to be their advocates because they are not able to articulate their situation, no matter how dire it is."
Children and adults with special needs are often discriminated against and have a difficult time navigating government service, especially after their aging parents are no longer able to help them, Neuman added.
“There is an ever-increasing aging population who have lived their whole lives with their parents, who are now deceased or too old to take care of their child,” Neuman said. “Who advocates for them?”
For more than 63 years, the St. Louis Center in Chelsea has done just that, assisting and accommodating the needs of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in a faith-based community.
As the number of adults with IDD (such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and other disorders) increases, the need for an intentional community to offer both assisted and independent special care is also growing. There are approximately 210,000 people with IDD statewide.
“St. Louis Center is on the front line,” Wendy Zielen, development and communications director at the St. Louis Center, told Detroit Catholic. “We are caring for the people whom our society doesn’t know how to care for after their friends and families are no longer here.”
On Aug. 27, Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea will celebrate the grand reopening and rededication of St. Joseph Hall, one of three residential halls on the campus. The hall was recently renovated to accommodate 11 single handicap-accessible rooms “to increase the sense of belonging and privacy,” said Fr. Enzo Addari, the St. Louis Center's CEO.
The 180-acre campus has six cottages, three residential halls, a duplex and a single-family home. When construction and staffing is complete, the center is hoping to serve about 60 residents, Zielen said. Yet, that number will still not be enough to accommodate the 20 or so individuals on the waiting list.
“We are small,” Zielen said. “We can’t take in all the people who would love to be here.”
The St. Louis Center is run by the Servants of Charity, an order of priests who have dedicated themselves to supporting children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Fr. Luigi (Louis) Guanella, who was canonized in 2011, founded the order after assisting St. John Bosco in caring for homeless children in Italy.
In 2010, when the center celebrated its 50-year anniversary, the nonprofit developed a strategic master plan to increase the number of individuals it could serve, but also to help families who need support, Fr. Addari said.
The single-family housing, for instance, can assist aging families who live with adult children who have IDD. Often, both need support, and being on campus helps adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities transition to living one day on the campus on their own, Fr. Addari said.
“The idea is to create an integrated village for people with disabilities and those who do not (have disabilities),” Fr. Addari said. “It is very easy to exploit (persons with IDD) so we want to provide an environment that can be safe.”
Over the past 13 years, the community was successful in raising the funding needed to complete the first phase of the construction of the St. Louis Guanella Village. Additional plans include more single-family homes, townhomes, a fitness center, chapel and shopping facilities integrated in a safe community.
“We would like to be a lot more (integrated), but it takes funding, and we are working on that right now,” Fr. Addari said.
Zielen said she hopes after construction is complete, the St. Louis Center can be a model of a healthy and happy environment for those with special needs.
“It’s a concept that I would like to see expand outside of just the St. Louis Center and be picked up in every region,” Zielen said.