Grantor: The Arlington Health Foundation,
Grantee: Gabriel Homes, Inc.
They are a nearly invisible minority. Not too long ago they were refused access to public schools. Many were hidden from view, were institutionalized, or were given make-work jobs in special workshops. They are the developmentally disabled, and the good news is that since the 1950s they have been making slow but steady progress toward integration with the rest of society.
Such progress is due in large part to a network of small nonprofit organizations that maintain group residential facilities for the developmentally disabled. Far less costly than institutional care, group homes also have the advantage of developing social skills and proficiency at independent living.
Gabriel Homes, a small nonprofit based in Northern Virginia, is one such program. The group maintains four facilities serving a total of 20 residents. Some homes provide overnight and weekend care, while others are set up for “drop in” staff support.
It all started in the early 1980s, when a group of parents and Catholic social workers came together to do something about the backlog of hundreds of developmentally disabled adults stuck on waiting lists for group housing throughout Fairfax County. The opening of the first home, in 1985, was accompanied by vigorous community protest, but most people find the residents to be good neighbors, and community opposition has since all but disappeared.
Unfortunately, whatever the community perceptions, residential facilities rarely receive much financial support, even in areas where the social safety net is well established. Explains board member Kathleen Connolly: “Fairfax County has an excellent special education program, and companies here have become very open to hiring the handicapped. The problem is where to live. Unless you are in a crisis situation or your parents die [a condition of entering certain state institutions] there is simply no place for these people to go.”
Adds executive director Rebecca Hartner: “Our primary emphasis is on independent living skills and community integration. We’re interested in providing housing in a community setting. We are committed to total integration. They live where they work where they play.”
And thanks to a grant from the Arlington Health Foundation, which was created in the wake of the November 1996 joint venture between the Arlington Hospital Association and Columbia HCA, they will also be healthy where they work, live, and play.
Under the grant, Gabriel Homes has hired three part-time staff to provide health care services not readily available to adults with disabilities. They include a dietitian, who is helping the full-time staff deal with problem areas such as excess weight and high cholesterol. A nurse practitioner coordinates residents’ overall health needs, and is surveying physicians to find out what kinds of problems tend to come up with the developmentally disabled. And, adds Hartner, “a mental health consultant is there to help residents with social skills, communication skills, interaction with the public, and questions like ‘How do I deal with my girlfriend?’”
When the Arlington Health Foundation (assets $350 million) looked at Gabriel Homes during its 1998 grant cycle, it found a lot to like.
Says acting foundation president Phil Peck: “When we were founded, we embarked on a comprehensive community health needs assessment so that we could target our funds. Gabriel Homes was a natural fit with our priority areas. The developmentally disabled typically have multiple service providers, and there is a tremendous need for coordination among them.”
To say there is strong demand is an understatement—Fairfax County alone has over 500 developmentally disabled individuals on waiting lists. But Gabriel Homes, with its 20 residents, is doing what few thought possible just a few years ago and is doing it well.