A Place for Adults with Autism:
Bluff Park Methodist, Glenwood Partner to Open The Promise Home
By William C. Singleton III
Austin Thrasher, 34, has already picked out his room in his new home in Hoover.
It has a bathroom with a shower, a closet, a ceiling fan and enough wall space for his television and a picture of his girlfriend. It even has a window with a view that looks toward Bluff Park United Methodist Church.
“This is my room,” Thrasher said, telling everyone who passed by or entered during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication earlier this month at the new Promise Home.
The Promise Home is Bluff Park United Methodist Church’s ministry to the disabled community, particularly to adults with autism. The church, through its volunteer missions group and the help of other Methodist congregations, raised funds and built the 4,000 square-foot, $450,000 group home with six bedrooms and six private bathrooms to house six adults with disabilities.
Bluff Park United Methodist has partnered with the Glenwood Inc. Autism and Behavioral Health Center to run the facility, which is scheduled to open in early July, said Rev. Reid Crotty, who recently retired as the church’s senior minister.
“We had some property behind our church that wasn’t being used, and we thought about what would be a good use for that,” he said.
Glenwood will provide 24-hour on-site management of the home. Glenwood is a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health care and educational services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and severe emotional disturbances. Autism is a development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and stereotyped behavior patterns.
Sherri Van Pelt, Glenwood’s vice president for development and communications, said with the growing diagnosis of autism among U.S. population, the need for such facilities is crucial.
When Glenwood began its services to the autism community in 1974, one in 10,000 people would be diagnosed with the disorder, Van Pelt said. Now that rate is one in 88, she said.
“When those people age out and become adults, there becomes a greater need to have (permanent) care for adults with disabilities,” Van Pelt said. “The need is tremendous. I think the need is going to grow.”
Glenwood currently serves more than 50 adults with autism in 12 residential programs, according to Glenwood officials. Glenwood officials said there are only about 40 residential programs nationwide specifically for adults with autism.
“It will be our nicest home,” said Lee Yount, Glenwood’s chief executive officer. “We don’t have a home that has private bedrooms and bathrooms for every single resident who lives there. So it’s such an incredible gift. It’s truly a Godsend.”
Crotty said the church’s decision to build a group home is an outgrowth of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church’s overall ministry to the mental health community.
“The residential care of mental and disabled people has been an interest of this church. There are just so many people who need facilities like this,” he said. “As you can imagine, it’s expensive to provide this kind of care. It’s just an enormous need for it.”
Bluff Park United Methodist began building the home last summer, Crotty said. June 9’s ribbon-cutting ceremony not only marked the official dedication of the home but the beginning of a long-term relationship between the church and autistic residents, Van Pelt said.
“That is why this is such a special gift, because people living there can attend worship there if they choose to do so,” Van Pelt said. “They will have an opportunity for fellowship and community activities that so many of our adults with disabilities would not normally have the opportunity to participate in.
“It’s important for all of us as human beings to interact and relate to other people and to have meaningful activity in a community. And for people with autism, sometimes those social interactions are much more of a challenge, so this is a great opportunity to have that experience built into their lifestyle.”
Crotty said he expects the congregation to benefit from the presence of the home.
“We look forward getting to know the residents who live here,” he said. “And believe me, they will bring far more to us than we give to them, and they will enrich our congregation in so many ways, making us a more loving congregation and fellowship.”
Austin’s brother, Aaron Thrasher, 30, said the Promise Home is the type of home his late parents wanted for Austin.
Austin currently shares an apartment with another autistic resident. They share a bathroom even though they have separate bedrooms. Austin’s new accommodations will give him more personal space and privacy as well as more one-on-one interaction with the staff, his brother said.
“It will teach him to be more independent,” Aaron said. “That’s really what he wants. That’s really all Austin wants. I’m just really happy for Austin.”