By Barb Arland-Fye
CLINTON — Now in their 60s, four longtime housemates with developmental disabilities face a monumental but necessary transition: moving into a new house that accommodates their needs as they age.
On a fall day, construction workers flowed in and out of the manufactured house in north Clinton that they hope to have ready around Thanksgiving for Keith Behne, Bob Wessels, Bertie Roberts and Mary Pat Buckman and their live-in assistants, Sister Vicky Arndorfer, RSM, and Jennifer Troxel. This “family” belongs to a community called L’Arche Clinton, The Arch, where adults with and without developmental disabilities share life together centered on faith.
During one visit to the site, Wessels went up to his future home and kissed it. “I’ve never had a client kiss a house. I thought, ‘wow, I made somebody’s day,’” said Craig Temple, who designed the house and whose company, New Age Builders Inc., is completing it. Homeway Homes in Deer Creek, Ill., manufactured it.
Temple learned about The Arch’s needs from Realtor Kay Vilmont, who works for his other company, New Age Real Estate. Vilmont served on The Arch’s Board of Directors beginning about a year after the community formed in 1974. She continues to be involved, especially with housing needs.
Most of The Arch’s 20 core members live in three nearly century-old homes. With the majority of core members middle-aged or older, mobility and safety have become pressing issues. Vilmont explained the situation to Temple and asked if he’d be interested in helping out. “He’s bent over backwards to make this happen,” she said.
“This process of exploring options and finally developing a house design that met the core members’ needs took over four years, a period consisting of prayers, research, listening, reflecting, announcing mission, developing new relationships and more prayers,” said Keith Kalaukoa, community leader and executive director of L’Arche Clinton, The Arch.
The community got a good deal on a double, hilly lot in north Clinton near the Mississippi River, Kalaukoa said.
But because of the steep grade the house’s design had to conform to the lot. It’s been an interesting, challenging project, Temple admits, but he saved The Arch money while providing an energy efficient, accessible, affordable eight-bedroom house for $400,000.
Temple said he remembers when his 84-year-old grandmother had to move out of her house because she could no longer climb three steps to enter it. That bothered him. Now he focuses on designing homes that adapt to people’s needs as they age. His company custom designs houses that Homeway Homes in Deerfield, Ill., engineers and builds.
The Arch house’s focus becomes evident the minute you walk inside: a spacious kitchen and living area form one large room. Bedrooms and two handicapped accessible bathrooms branch off from it. “The main floor is where life will take place. There are five bedrooms for core members and two bedrooms for assistants. It’s all on the main floor. It resembles a large-ranch style home,” Kalaukoa said.
With 3,000 square feet on the main floor and 1,000 square feet in the walk-out basement, the house should easily accommodate wheel chairs and other bulky equipment. Space has been designed and framed for a future elevator, if funding becomes available.
The Arch has undertaken a five-year capital campaign “Come Build with Us” to pay for the house. Core members receive government funding for their day-to-day care, but it cannot go toward capital expenditures, Kalaukoa said.
While the current economic climate makes fund-raising a challenge, “we’re going to families and ordinary people who know The Arch and are involved with the core members,” said Sister Anne Martin Phelan, OSF, a member of The Arch’s board of directors. “There is a great deal of respect and affection for The Arch and the core members in particular. That’s probably where our main support will come from.”
Several financial gifts have been received, including a $20,000 grant from the Clinton County Development Association, which Sr. Phelan secured. “That was one of the first ones, so that was a big boost to us.”
The house is a wise investment because it allows core members to remain at home rather than living in a county or state institution. “We can provide these services at a lower cost than the state or county could do,” said Paul Schnack, The Arch’s board president.
In addition, the new house opens space in one of the old houses for individuals to join The Arch as core members. The need to hire additional assistants also creates job opportunities, noted Schnack, the vice president and cashier at First Central State Bank in DeWitt.
But the greatest benefit of The Arch’s presence is the way in which core members interact with the people in the community, Schnack said. “They share their lives unconditionally. It doesn’t matter if you have had a bad day; they’ll give you a hug and you’ll feel better no matter how the day is going.”
L’Arche Clinton, The Arch invites people to “Come Build with Us” by financially supporting the community in Clinton during its capital campaign.
The community, where adults with and without disabilities share life together centered on faith, has a new house to accommodate the special needs of some of its aging core members. The house is being built for approximately $400,000.
For more information, please call Keith Kalaukoa, community leader and executive director of L’Arche Clinton, The Arch at (563) 243-9035.
The following organizations, businesses and families have contributed substantially to the project: Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton County Development Association, Thomas Buckman, attorney at law, Barb Sullivan and New Age Builders Inc.