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Nonprofit seeks housing for adults with autism in region

Architect Adam Fernsler describes a conceptual residential space that would house high-functioning autistic adults, providing them with independent living spaces and the opportunity for freedom and social interaction.
Architect Adam Fernsler describes a conceptual residential space that would house high-functioning autistic adults, providing them with independent living spaces and the opportunity for freedom and social interaction. Jhartley@centredaily.com

It may only currently exist as a plan on paper, but the idea for a living space bringing adults with autism together could mean new opportunities for freedom and independence for its residents.

The building is the vision of the Acres Project — a nonprofit corporation seeking to provide “a residential and day community in a farm and family environment uniquely designed to foster independence, self-advocacy and entrepreneurship for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities,” according to the project website, www.acresproject.org.

Acres hosted a community gathering Tuesday at the Centre Region Council of Governments Building, providing a glimpse of what may come should the organization achieve the funding needed to make its vision a reality.

“We can be aware of autism, we can speak about it, but why can’t we do something about it?” said behavioral health professional Jonathan Redding to the residents gathered. “But we can. One of the critical things we have to overcome is this ‘I can’t’ attitude about autism.”

According to Redding, the unemployment rate among adults with autism is 85 percent, however, these individuals can be taught skills and can lead independent lives.

Fernsler Hutchinson Architecture LLC Vice President Adam Fernsler presented a conceptual schematic of how this independent living space could be laid out. The building is designed with two residential wings attached to a central core, capable of housing as many as 14-16 residents.

Each wing would offer one- or two-bedroom apartments or efficiency spaces, he said, with kitchenettes and a central activity space. Keeping the building to a single story with natural light filtering in would provide more of a home-feeling atmosphere as well.

The central core would offer services for high-functioning adults with areas for cooking, training or group activities, he said. The purpose of the core would be to draw in the community, raising awareness through special events.

It’s unsure at this point if the building would need an an autism specialist living on the site, he said, or if such a role would be handled by shifts.

The building, he said, would also feature an aquaponics program — a method of farming with the ability to grow fish and vegetables in tandem. Acres has partnered with Penn State to establish the first commercial aquaponic farm in the county.

At this point, the project does not have any property or location secured to build the space, he said, but certain things are being taken into consideration once a space is chosen, including being on the bus route, in a residential setting with open areas for outdoor activities.

Executive Director Bellmarie Bregar said Acres will soon be launching a large capital campaign to acquire the funds needed to build such a structure. For now, the organization primarily exists as a support group.

Funding will be sought through federal, state and private means, according to the project.

National speaker, author, and autism advocate and consultant Kerry Magro participated in an event Saturday afternoon sponsored by the Acres Project to spread awareness about autism. April is Autism Awareness Month

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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