Edwards Center project offers housing, amenities for adults with disabilities

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jackson Catrett, Skanska construction superintendent, describes the work under way at the Edwards Center in Aloha. At the Edwards Center in Aloha, there is no such thing as a “generation gap.”

While aging parents and their grown, developmentally disabled children may have differing interests and bed times, the center has strived for 40 years to accommodate the living and lifestyle needs of the whole family.

With a major, $5.2 million expansion and renovation project in full swing, the center at 20250 S.W. Kinnaman Road is taking that philosophy to the Nth degree. With five cottages and five houses being built, and the community center at the back of the 2.5-acre property undergoing a major overhaul, the Edwards Center is clearly entering a new era of client and community services.

“It’s a pretty ambitious project — cutting edge,” said center Director Jessica Leitner. “To our knowledge, no one has done what we’re doing now. No one has built a neighborhood for families” touched by developmental disabilities. “This is about families making a choice to live with their developmentally disabled children.”

Founded in 1972 by Jean Edwards, a University of Oregon graduate with a passion for special education, the nonprofit Edwards Center aimed to provide a “continuum of care” in a community setting, providing housing, job opportunities and medical options to those with developmental disabilities.

The renovation project focuses on expanding the community living aspect of the center’s mission.

The existing group-living home on the site will be scrapped and replaced with five cottages and five houses. The cottages are designed for up to two residents. The 2,500-square-foot homes will feature three to five bedrooms, barrier-free interiors, private outdoor spaces, and flexible suites of rooms to accommodate independence and connection to caregivers.

At the back of the 2.5-acre property, adjacent to Butternut Creek Elementary School, the Aloha Community Center is being expanded and fully remodeled to accommodate new classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen, spacious dining room, expanded restrooms, a wellness clinic and community garden, among other amenities.

“Before we were not offering meals or food service,” Leitner explained while recently touring the now-gutted community center building. “People just brought a sack lunch and ate it in the break room.”

When completed later this year, the renovated 13,359-square-foot center — which serves nearly 100 people each day — will be better able to accommodate events and activities involving the larger community.

“We’ll have a big patio with a covered area we could rent for weddings and other events,” she said. “This was conceived with an eye toward commercial use for the community.”

Home for all ages

The project grew out of a series of planning meetings with Edwards Center stakeholders. They set new goals of expanding low-cost housing options that would promote “multigenerational living” in which aging parents with care needs could reside with their developmentally disabled children.

“The goal is to maximize natural supports — friends, family members, shared arrangements — in proximity to the community center,” Leitner said.

Rather than assume every client requires 24-hour care, Edwards Center employees and volunteers work with parents to assess individual needs of their children and tailor care plans accordingly. The average age of clients is 55.

“We’re creating a pocket neighborhood,” Leitner said of the housing that will accommodate 35 to 45 residents. “Everybody who lives here is not a person with disabilities, but everybody here (is associated) with someone who has been impacted by disabilities.”

Fulfilling promises

Eugene-based Creative Housing Solutions is working with the center to help shape the vision the Edwards Center expansion represents. George Braddock, director of the consulting agency, said the overall goal is to reduce residents’ isolation and nurture an interactive, community JONATHAN HOUSE - Construction workers with Skanska dig out trenches in front of the Edwards Center, a housing and employment assistance resource fo adults with disabilities. The center is currently going through a major renovation.

“For a long time, the way services were delivered to people with disabilities tended to isolate them,” he said of the care industry. “They tended to be leading almost parallel lives. Workplaces were segregated, and they were only among other people with disabilities.

“The (Edwards) center, over time, realized what they really needed to do is open their own doors,” he added.

The community center was designed with that philosophy in mind. Classes, group meetings, educational seminars and services such as foot-care clinics are planned for the center to carry out the renewed mission.

“We want to encourage everyone to use the place,” Braddock said.

Expansion of housing options, the project’s next phase, will further the message of inclusiveness as the needs of parents and their grown children evolve.

“I think it is a new approach,” he said. “The whole idea of bringing families into the situation, into that space, I’ve not known of it before. It’s sort of an evolution of the Edwards Center, creating a new kind of community support.”

Leitner said the project reflects the spirit behind Jean Edwards’ original promise to six families, 40 years ago, that the fledgling center would take care of their children once the parents were gone.

“That promise was carried forward. (The children) became part of our family. To us, that’s a big deal,” she said. “If you’re in your 70s with a child in his or her 40s and looking for an organization like ours, they’re going to be with us.

“We’re never going to turn them out,” she added. “It’s a strong source of pride for us.”

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