13 Feb The Villages is a great place for special needs families – We just need a bigger house!
For seniors that have dreamed of retiring to the Florida sunshine but have concerns there is little to offer their special needs, dependent loved one, we can’t think of a better place in the country to relocate to than The Villages, Florida.
Kevadvotech has published articles and podcasts over the past year that promote a view that The Villages is an incredible community for those families that have a special needs son or daughter living full-time with their parents or primary caregiver. There are many amazing opportunities for our adult children to participate in fun activities, make new friends, and live their best lives possible.
The future is bright here in The Villages!
2022 saw tremendous growth in participation among our special needs community in the growing number of programs and activities available to them. In January, we highlighted some of these exciting clubs and programs. You can read that full article here. We are especially thankful for the support of John Rohan, who was instrumental in launching the S.T.A.R. (Special Talented Adult Resident) program, which provides unique events for our ‘kids’ to create lifelong memories. The S.T.A.R. (Special Talented Adult Resident) program was introduced and sponsored by The Villages Recreation.
The program is expected to grow throughout 2023 and offer a wide variety of classes, activities and one time events for our Villages special needs residents.
The very first S.T.A.R. class began in October 2022. It’s a Water Aerobics class, which is held at 9am every Thursday at the Ezell Recreation Center Sports Pool. The instructor is the amazing Susann Reeves, a Pennsylvania native who taught children on the autism spectrum in South Florida before retiring in June 2020. Susann is passionate about what she does and is very engaging with everyone that joins her in the pool each Thursday morning. The water aerobics class is expected to run through late March 2023.
Residents and volunteers have been so warm and embracing
Our special needs population has been very active in raising awareness of their existence here locally as well as sharing their passion for life. It is heartwarming to witness their pure joy and innocence as they continue to introduce themselves to the broader community within The Villages.
Best Buddies The Villages is one of the more active clubs and continues to see significant growth in membership. Through table presence at The Heritage Festivals late 2022 and Market Nights in the squares, the ‘Buddies’ have been able to introduce themselves to the community and put their passion on full display.
It is especially wonderful to see how the residents here in The Villages have embraced our ‘kids’. So many have signed up as ‘Peer Buddies’ to our ‘Buddies’ to create that one on one friendship and mentoring experience. Other local residents have eagerly stepped up to volunteer in other capacities. We continue to welcome any and all support!
The Villages British Motoring Club is one such group that has warmly embraced and adopted our kids. In November, they introduced Best Buddies The Villages ‘Buddies’ onstage at Sumter Landing during a Hooligans performance. We are grateful to Sandy Turner and the British Motoring Club’s members for their commitment and support of Best Buddies, whether through fund raisers or showing up somewhere to give the Buddies a thrill ride in their cool vehicles.
Local entertainers have big hearts too
Some of the most popular performers and entertainers in The Villages have also embraced our special needs kids, while going the extra mile to make them feel welcome and so special. Scooter the DJ, one of The Villages most popular entertainers, spent time with our kids in the Odell Recreation Center in December, helping make their Christmas party memorable. Any time Scooter performs, he makes a lasting impression on his audience. You can imagine the excitement in the room when the kids walked in to the ‘surprise’ awaiting them, as we kept it a secret that Scooter would be their host for the evening.
Blonde Ambition, who have quickly risen to become ‘must see’ entertainment onstage in The Villages, has also embraced our kids. Anticipation was building for many weeks as Blonde Ambition invited Best Buddies The Villages to be special guests at their Glow Light show performance at Sumter Landing on January 20th. The overflow crowd was decorated in glow light apparel and danced the night away. Best Buddies was treated to their own pre-arranged seating assignments by the band, which allowed them to enjoy the evening together with their peers and family members.
Positive news travels near and far
Unknown to us until recently, The Villages sales center apparently was receiving more frequent calls from prospective home buyers that were considering retirement and relocation to The Villages. But this particular group of prospective buyers shared a major concern. They currently are both parent and primary caregiver to their special needs adult son or daughter. And they were wondering if The Villages offered any programs that would provide their adult child with the opportunity to thrive and enjoy the same lifestyle they themselves sought in retirement.
These inquiries were often left with unanswered questions. The Villages staff was generally not aware of the scope of the special needs population within the community, nor what programs might be available to them.
So the sales team started doing what most anyone doing research might do; they Googled.
And by googling “special needs in The Villages, FL”, some of our articles and podcasts at kevadvotech.com began to appear. We received a call from The Villages Community Resources team, asking to meet. It was a great conversation and an opportunity to share all the wonderful things happening and available to our special needs community. As a result, a good friend of mine (and proud father of a beautiful, special needs daughter) prepared a comprehensive brochure for The Villages sales staff to refer to when fielding incoming calls from perspective buyers.
Since mid 2022, Kevadvotech too has received a number of emails and calls from people that found our podcasts and articles about The Villages. People are very curious to connect and discuss their particular family situation and whether The Villages is indeed a great place to relocate their special needs family.
I’ve personally enjoyed many long conversations with families like ours around other parts of the country, and I’m always eager to share all we have to offer here in The Villages. My message is simple. You will love this community as a retiree and as a parent and caregiver to your special needs child. There is so much available for them, and it’s only going to get better. Some of these conversations have resulted in ‘Stay & Play’ lifestyle visits and ultimately a home purchase.
A need arises
Despite all these exciting opportunities and activities for our adult children, we are missing a critical component – a plan and commitment for long term housing within the community.
As a father of a special needs adult child, my biggest fear and concern is where my son is going to live when I leave this earth or when I can no longer care for him. If I or my wife were to require long term or specialized care, there are numerous housing choices within The Villages. However, for Special needs adult children, there are few affordable choices outside direct family housing.
As of this writing, I am 63 and my wife, Ruth is 65. While we hope to have Kevin (age 37) live with us as long as we are alive and can properly care for him, the thought of his future without us is frightening. It is often the first thing I think of when I awaken up each day, and the last thing I think of before closing my eyes to sleep for the night. Where will he live when we die, and what accommodations and services will be available in order for him to live his best life; with pride, dignity and in the comfort within a community of his peers?
We have many friends here in The Villages in a similar situation. And many of our friends here are a bit older than Ruth and I, so I can only imagine the additional stress on them regarding ‘fear of the unknown’ of the future of their adult special needs child as relates to long term care and housing.
Housing for the special needs community
The Village’s Developer is well aware of the growing Special Needs population in The Villages and is considering how and where they can help. An organization called My Special Place Inc., with whom I am affiliated, has been working closely with the Developers staff, providing input to their considerations. We are hopeful for a timely response. While there have been a number of government supported housing projects for Special Needs adults in Florida, we are not aware of any privately funded projects within an existing retirement community.
We believe that a Special Needs Village within a world class community like The Villages is a natural and would almost be expected to be included here. Additionally, if done correctly, it would most likely serve as a footprint for other retirement communities around the country.
Is there a Plan ‘B’?
All of the families like ours here in the community agree on one thing; we want our children to live inside The Villages when we are gone. No disrespect to the surrounding community here in central Florida, but we want our kids to enjoy a lifestyle that we as their parents have been so fortunate to enjoy.
Ideally, the housing for our kids should be centralized. It should be their own little community where they socialize and live among their peers. Whether it is a carved out parcel of land to build 1 to 4 bedroom type smaller homes in a campus-like setting, with shared facilities for eating meals together and enjoying activities, or a larger state of the art, apartment-like facility similar to the senior assisted living and nursing homes they’ve built here, it should provide everything they’d need to monitor and maintain their health and well being.
There are other possibilities such as converting our own homes here into group homes eventually. Research of state of Florida disabilities rights has shown this might be possible, with some restrictions. I personally would only move forward with this option as a last resort. This option is wrought with logistical challenges, and it might not be so warmly embraced by surrounding residents.
Prayers are needed
I hope that anyone reading this article finds it uplifting and full of gratitude. The Villages is an incredible community full of residents that are so giving of their time as they look to support worthwhile causes. What our special needs families have experienced here is beyond anything we could have imagined for our children. What’s building here is an amazing story of love, compassion and promise.
The Developer and Staff have been wonderful to our families by providing new programs and opportunities. We are all deeply thankful for their support. We can promise that we will continue to represent The Villages in the glowing light it deserves. We’ll also continue to be The Villages biggest ambassadors as we demonstrate to other communities here in the U.S. and around the world, what is possible for a community that is inclusive to those with special needs. Our prayers continue to ask that, our adult children, like us, will someday be contributing members of the best community in the world.
A housing solution would indeed be a longtime prayer answered and gracefully allow us and our precious children to ‘continue the dream’.