A white stone rancher in a quiet neighborhood within a few miles of downtown Westminster opens today as Respite Inn, a comfortable haven that will allow families to take a short vacation from the demands of caring for their developmentally disabled offspring.
Change Inc., which recently celebrated 35 years of offering support services to the developmentally disabled and their families, bought the home last year and adapted it for its clients.
The inn's first guests are booked for this weekend, with 14-year-old Megan Will among them. While her parents and her younger sister travel to a volleyball tournament in Pennsylvania, Megan, who is profoundly disabled, will have the comforts of home and all the care she needs.
"I have already met the staff at the inn, and they are wonderful," said Megan's mother, Darrelle Will. "They will even puree Megan's food like I do. This gives us an opportunity to get away, and it gives Megan someplace to go. This inn will be such a good thing for so many families like us. There are so many simple things that can be obstacles when traveling with a disabled child."
Heather Powell, Change's director of support services, said respite care is "the No. 1 service our families request. Everyone needs a break. This is a huge venture for our agency, but the inn was something we felt strongly that we needed to do."
Change Inc. has kept a list of care providers who will open their homes or stay in the family's home. The organization has frequently helped aging parents struggling with medical emergencies find care for their disabled children while they recover from surgery or illness. But the need for a permanent and accessible location with an experienced staff has been apparent for quite some time, said Richard Glaser, executive director of the Westminster-based organization.
"We want to give families a break, for a weekend away or just out to the movies and sometimes in an emergency," Glaser said. "We have tried to set that up as much as possible for our families, but now with the inn, we can really expand on that.
"We can offer respite care and a good, comfortable experience for our guests, some of whom will be away from home for the first time," he said.
The organization looked for a suitable home for nearly a year and paid $286,000 for the three-bedroom rancher that sits on nearly 2 acres in Smallwood, near Deer Park.
"We liked the look, the size and the layout," Glaser said.
It cost an additional $100,000 to widen doorways and hallways, build decks and ramps, refurbish the heating and air-conditioning systems, add a second bathroom, and make the unfinished basement into an apartment for the inn manager.
As many as three guests can stay overnight in spacious bedrooms, and a few more can visit during the day. Guests have full use of the home, its landscaped yard and its amenities, such as the bean bag chair with stereo speakers. Change's families - the organization serves more than 180 clients - donated all the furniture, games, books, toys and videos.
"This is a really comfortable home with enough space so that people won't be on top of each other," Powell said.
Specialized equipment, including a hospital bed and a shower lift, are also available.
"Every one of our guests will have different needs," Powell said. "We can rearrange depending on who is staying. Respite comes in all different shapes and forms. We will try to be well-rounded."
Change has grant money available to help families who might not be able to afford the inn's $146 daily rate.
Geneva Selby, whose son Danny has been a client with Change since it was founded, said many families will welcome the services the inn offers. Every family can use time away from caring for a severely disabled child, she said.
"People who don't have a disabled child don't realize how different and how difficult your life can be," she said.
Miriam Hollinger, the sole caregiver for her 56-year-old disabled son, said she hopes to take advantage of the inn soon.
"It will really be a godsend for parents," she said.
Peggy Whiteman, inn manager, is planning activities, field trips and walks in Deer Park. A van is equipped with a wheelchair lift so guests can take a ride to the mall or the movies or take a day trip to Baltimore.
The deck runs nearly the length of the house and is ideal for outside dining. The fireplace in the living room will be a background for video nights. The rooms are sun-drenched, tastefully decorated and inviting.
Whiteman has help with housekeeping from special-education students in life-skills classes at Carroll County's seven high schools. The students are spending mornings at the inn, helping with chores, laundry, meal preparation and yard work. "Rather than a classroom, the inn gives them an opportunity to learn homemaking skills in a real-life environment," Glaser said.
Respite Inn will hold an open house from noon to 8 p.m. today at 638 Deer Park Road. Information: 410-876-2179.