The Village of Merici – A Community Without Walls
On a Saturday morning at the Barnes & Noble in Clearwater Crossing, a group of seven meet for their weekly book club. They get drinks, catch up on each other’s happenings and get themselves situated around the tables set up just for them. Then one by one they take turns reading aloud, from Black Beauty this week, pausing now and again to discuss a passage and its social significance.
What makes this book club special is that its members are developmentally disabled, and many of them have additional health problems. The book club, which meets in the store’s café, gives them the opportunity to practice using money by paying for their beverages, and reading and digesting the content of their chosen book. And it gives them a sense of community and friendship that many developmentally disabled adults in the Indianapolis area are sadly lacking. But that is changing.
The book club is the first program started by the Village of Merici, a nonprofit organization named after the patron saint of the disabled. Started by a group of parents who had adult (or soon to be) children with a range of developmental disabilities, the Village of Merici’s organizers envision providing a safe, joyful, accessible neighborhood environment with residential living and support, occupational training and job placement opportunities and social activities, all in the framework of sustaining and improving the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individuals they serve.
Right now, “it’s a community without walls,” said Geist resident Lisa Patchner. She and her husband, Michael, are parents of an adult son who is severely impaired and grandparents to an autistic grandson, and when they heard about the Village of Merici, they knew they had to get involved. “Having safe, appropriate, family-centered support for people with disabilities is extremely important,” she said.
Colleen Renie, Secretary on the Board of Directors for the Village of Merici, said, “We’ve spent the last several years doing extensive research to come up with our concept and build connections with local families.”
Their research included traveling to neighboring states to observe programs that are already in place to learn what works well and what doesn’t, and polling both parents and their disabled adult children. “We have a consumer committee,” Renie said. “We want to make sure we’re meeting their needs as well as ours.”
She explained that the current setup in most Indiana cities is that when there is a need and room, a disabled individual gets moved into a group home with two or three other people they don’t know. They don’t get to choose their roommates, and availability of household trainers is limited. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” she said. “And they may be living in a neighborhood, but they’re not integrated into the neighborhood.”
“Other [cities] our size have such communities in place. Why this never happened in Indianapolis is a big puzzle to all of us,” Lisa said. “We’re hoping we can take the good that some of these groups have developed and replicate that here.”
The Village of Merici has its work cut out for it, and the statistics are daunting. For those disabled adults who would benefit from placement in a residential facility in Indiana, the waiting list is more than 19,000 names long. For some services, there’s up to an 11-year wait. In the meantime, said Renie, “Loneliness is the greatest disability of all.”
The book club members seem to understand the importance of this undertaking, not to mention the benefits.
Heather, daughter of board member Colleen Simon, proudly donned her Village of Merici T-shirt in honor of her band of literary explorers and friends. Renie’s son, Jason, who is 32 and has a mild intellectual disability, said, “We do more than just read a book.”
Mary, who has been to Washington D.C. to speak about being disabled, said, “It’s fun on a Saturday to come and make new friends. And there are people helping us if we need it.” In fact, trained therapists graciously volunteer their time on Saturday mornings at Clearwater Crossing, as well as the Merici Book Club in Avon, to make sure everyone’s experience is enjoyable and helpful.
So they have the community without walls portion of the equation up and running. The next step is hopefully to raise $1.2 million in private funding to secure property and build a living facility for about 20 individuals to start.
“This is going to be a family thing,” Lisa stressed. “Families will be encouraged to participate, instead of discouraged, which can sometimes be the case in current group home scenarios. At the Village of Merici, families will always be welcome.”
“If you are the parent of a developmentally disabled adult, get involved,” Michael urged. “Don’t be isolated.”
“You don’t have to do it alone,” Lisa added. “We’re here to work with you.”
When all is said and done, Village of Merici members, parents and children alike, all want the same thing, Renie said. “A meaningful day, a meaningful life — we all want that. We all want friends. We all want something to do. We all want to feel needed. And we all what to feel loved.”
If you’re a parent of a developmentally disabled young adult or adult child and you’d like to get involved in the Village of Merici community, call (317) 858-8544, or go to www.villiageofmerici.org to sign up to receive the official newsletter, volunteer or donate monies for Village of Merici programs.