Indianapolis-Based Organization Fosters Independent Living
What began as a book club for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) has blossomed into a community for individuals who wish to live independently, yet require supportive services. The Village of Merici, located on the old Fort Benjamin Harrison campus in Indianapolis, offers residents an affordable place to call home and a program for community integration. It is named after Angela Merici, the patron saint of those with disabilities.
The seed for the organization was planted in 2005 when a group of parents came together to discuss concerns regarding what would happen to their children with IDD when family became unavailable to help due to health problems or death. They wanted to provide a structure that was affordable and fostered independence, while providing a wide range of support.
The first years of the organization were spent in fact finding and developing a mission. From the start, book clubs were initiated by the parents who realized that since graduation, their adult children had very few interactions
with anyone outside their own families. During this time, many different models were investigated and explored. A plan was developed and the Village of Merici opened as a residential facility in 2014.
The focus of the Village of Merici, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is the premise that individuals want to live in a community where, with support, they are free to make their own decisions about when and where they choose to participate in an activity. The founding members felt group homes or institutions were too restrictive, as the goal was to develop a community of independence and a network of peer friends. A key component of the concept is affordability – most individuals with IDD work part time and typically find it difficult to pay for housing.
“We found property at Fort Harrison and worked with Merchants Affordable Housing and TWG Development, who applied for rental housing tax credits through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA),” says Executive Director Colleen Renie. “Most of the apartments are now identified as Housing Choice units through the Indianapolis Housing Agency. We assess the individual’s needs and resources. IHCDA and Merici Village Apartments reviews and verifies the tenant’s income and sets the apartment rates at 30% of the individual’s income.”
Village of Merici has been successful in allowing residents to be independent, and today the facility has a waiting list with more than 200 people. Residents represent a wide range of individuals with differing needs, and many individuals who reside elsewhere also take part in the services offered. Most maintain integrated employment that corresponds to their specific interests. Some need 24-hour care for tasks such as showering, dressing and cooking.
One resident, Angie, is in her 30s and is active in Special Olympics. She has lived independently for more than five years while working at various jobs in Indianapolis. With the help of her coaches, Angie plans meals, goes to the grocery story every Tuesday, and cooks with the ingredients she purchases.
Conan and Ashley are a married couple who have lived together at the village since 2015. They met while participating in Project SEARCH, a work training program at Community Hospital North. Conan enjoys running and biking through nearby Fort Harrison State Park. Ashley likes the activates the facility provides, especially the walking club.
Lindsey is a nonverbal resident in her late 30s who requires a higher level of support. Her coaches have seen her thrive and grow in an environment where she can make her own activity choices, such as cooking classes and Special Olympics bowling. Through participating in the programs offered at the Village of Merici, she has made a group of friends that enrich her life.
“Going onward, we will continue to develop additional affordable housing with partners in the community by working on two additional projects,” Renie says. “We are moving forward with Old Towne Companies and Merchants Affordable Housing in Carmel, and we just completed the purchase of property on Lawton Loop for a second apartment building through a donation from Dan and Betsy Brunette. They have been very generous in wanting to help us go in our next direction.”
Renie says the organization helps to facilitate independent choices for those involved.
“Residents make life choices based on their needs and interests, not what others decide for them,” Renie says. “Staff, administrators and board members believe that all people can live in a home they choose and control, on their own or with others they select, and can participate in meaningful work and activities, if appropriate supports are offered.”
Village of Merici is located at 5707 Lawton Loop East Drive in Indianapolis. For more info, go to villageofmerici.org or call 317-292-9408.