What started off as an idea to provide housing residents with unique abilities is slowly coming to fruition.
For the past few years, Sandy Baker has worked to develop Gracious Grounds, a non-profit organization focused on creating a safe and friendly place for residents with developmental abilities to live and be involved in the community.
After searching for a suitable site and raising funds for the initiative, Gracious Grounds is now waiting to renovate the property at 1515 S. Despelder St. The property is currently occupied by Love INC Tri-Cities’ Hope House. Love INC is in the process of renovating a different location for the shelter.
The property was previously used for Hospice of North Ottawa Community, which relocated to Spring Lake Township several years ago.
Baker, executive director of Gracious Grounds, met with perspective parents and residents about the opportunity. Some of the concerns parents voiced about housing were: safety and security, being on a public transportation route, and being close to businesses.
“I walk in their shoes,” she said. “I can feel their desire.”
The property has six bedrooms and six and a half bathrooms. Each bedroom is secure with a keycard entry.
A resident assistant will also live on the property to lend a helping hand, like a caring neighbor, said Baker, who plans to move into the first property so she can learn everything about it.
To live at Gracious Grounds, residents need to be self-sufficient in making breakfast and lunch for themselves, but they and the resident assistant will also prepare one meal together.
The property also has laundry amenities and storage available for residents.
Baker said they purchased a 15-passenger van to use for group outings and other activities.
Proceeds from annual fundraisers have gone to secure the property and toward renovations and moving costs.
Baker said they hope to form relationships with surrounding businesses and help residents further their involvement in the community.
“It’s more than just a place to lay your head,” she said.
The first property is filled, and there’s a waiting list for additional housing opportunities.
The official move-in date remains a few months out as Love INC continues to transition Hope House residents.
Kristi and Ric VanWeelden plan to live on the property as full-time resident assistants.
Ric plans to retire within the next year and, for several months, the VanWeeldens have discussed how they want to serve others in the next step of their lives. By helping residents, Kristi said she they hope to inspire and teach them what she and her husband have learned, and help foster confidence and pride.
Baker said they are also working with developers toward housing at The Havens, the apartment complex at Grand Landing, to secure some units for residents with disabilities.
If The Havens’ housing opportunity moves forward, Katie Cole, 30, would be among the tenants.
Gay Cole, who is also on the Gracious Grounds board, said she and her husband are excited and nervous about the opportunity for their daughter, who has expressed an interest in living on her own for a long time. The Spring Lake Township family says they want a place for Katie to live within her community that is safe, has some level of supervision, and becomes a place where she will feel responsible for as her home.
“Until this particular housing opportunity became available or spoken about, we didn’t see another option if we were living here because there didn’t seem to be anything out there that seemed to be right for Katie,” Gay said.