Columbia facility opens new world for disabled adults

St. Matthew House dedication set today

April 25, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

When Columbia's St. Matthew House opens as expected Saturday, so will the world of severely disabled citizens like Maria Turley.

Turley, 49, plans to be present at 3 p.m. today for the dedication of the house in Kings Contrivance next to the village center. It will be the realization of a vision that came to her five years ago: a community for people who need services but also want independence.

"It's pretty humbling," said Turley, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago, uses a wheelchair and will be among the 15 residents. "The project has taken on a life of its own, and as time passed, it became clear that this was something that was intended to be."

Most of the money for the $1.55 million facility came from a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will also grant $60,000 annually for operations.

Turley doesn't devote much attention to the furniture, the southern exposure or the three-story atrium at the facility. Instead, she speaks of taking classes, getting a job and visiting the pharmacist across the parking lot at the village center.

"I'm all about choices," she said. "It's inclusive, a real example of being part of the world around you."

Turley knows the difference. She spent two months last year in a nursing home.

"For me, it was dismal," said Turley, a Columbia resident. "[In the nursing home], there was no independence. There was no personal care, and little interaction with others my own age."

Turley came up with the idea of St. Matthew House in 1994, after conversations with people who were too young for nursing homes but who were placed in them because they could not take care of all of their needs at home.

She shared the idea with the Rev. Raymond Valencia, a priest at the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia, which led to a cooperative effort among the church, government and corporate sectors in the form of grants and discounted land.

"The whole thing is something of a miracle," said Valencia. "This was a collaborative effort from all sides of the community."

St. Matthew House will be operated by Community Residences, an Arlington, Va., nonprofit organization that has been providing services to people with disabilities since 1975.

Only a few residents have been chosen so far. Geronimo Robinson, the company's division coordinator, said about 10 applications are under consideration.

The applicants chosen will be those with significant physical disabilities who can't afford similar accommodations. The rent will be 30 percent of the adjusted gross income of the residents.

"If someone is making $50,000, they won't be able to come in," Robinson said. "This is for people who need an affordable place."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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