Church-owned house will help mentally disabled youth Teens will be closer to family, community

September 22, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A two-story house owned by First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odenton will be part of a program to bring mentally disabled young people from out-of-state institutions back to their families and community.

By November, three 18-year-olds will be living in the house and attending either public or private schools for special education. They will have a live-in supervisor and six other full-time staff members working with them.

Turning the house on Beverly Avenue into a local resource is what the congregation had in mind when it bought the building about eight years ago, said the Rev. Robert L. Hinz, pastor.

"We've been looking to use our property for some type of mission or ministry and to help our community," Hinz said.

The church had been renting the house, next to the parsonage, to tenants.

"We don't want to really be in the rental business," Hinz said. "We want to have something that's a little more productive."

Now, instead of merely being landlords, the congregation will become involved with the new residents by being mentors and, possibly, through the residents attending church.

Other Options Inc., a nonprofit Baltimore-based company, will run the home. The company, which operates homes for mentally disabled adults in Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, opened its first home for youth in Brooklyn Park last September.

A small-group setting closer to home is better than the large institutions most of the residents will be coming from, organizers said.

"The kids can learn to get to know their neighbors. They can learn to cut the grass. They have to make their beds," said Barbara Kozlowski, resource developer for Systems Reform Initiative, a county program that uses state money to return mentally disabled youths to Maryland.

For decades, the state paid to send mentally disabled young people out of state when it was thought they could not be cared for at home or in their communities.

But Anne Arundel is one of 17 counties that uses state money to bring youths back instead of sending them away, placing them with their families, in foster homes or in residential programs, such as the one being established in Odenton.

"It really is the community's responsibility to raise a kid and not pack them up and ship them off," Kozlowski said. "It's no longer acceptable to send kids out of state," except in severe cases.

And caring for the young people in Maryland usually costs less: about $80,000 for the Odenton program vs. $100,000 a year for out-of-state programs, said Kozlowski and Harold Adams, executive director of Other Options.

Systems Reform Initiative gave the company $13,000 for renovations, $8,000 for furnishings and $3,000 to help buy a van. Adams expects the first resident to begin weekend visits to the four-bedroom house at the end of the week.

He said he is pleased to be working with the First Evangelical Lutheran congregation. "It's like a welcome into the community," he said.

W. L. Gardner, a retired Westinghouse engineer who lives in the brown-shingled bungalow next door, is willing to give the program a chance.

"They've got to have a shot I guess," said Gardner, 72. "If there's any problems, I'm just going to take it up with the church. With the supervision and all of that, I couldn't see that it's going to be anything to worry about."

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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