In mid-1997, five families tried to envision what the future held for their intellectually/developmentally disabled children. Where would they live? Who would care for them? Would they have friends? Would they have a reasonable quality of life? Most importantly, how would they survive once their parents were no longer around to take care of them?
Researching For Answers
This quest for answers quickly turned into despair. Families discovered that:
- the State of Florida ranked 47th nationally in providing support services for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (“ID/DD”) and there were over 6,000 citizens with ID/DD waiting for critical support services with no funds available.
- 93% of Special Education Students with ID/DD that received a certificate of completion (not a diploma) would be unemployed and most would remain that way for their entire life.
- 90% of citizens with ID/DD would be sexually abused at some point in their life because they are such easy prey of anyone choosing to take advantage of them.
- it was almost certain that these individuals would become “couch potatoes” with no meaningful purpose in life and struggle to survive on a little over $600.00 per month Supplemental Security Income and food stamps.
- citizens with ID/DD would likely be forced to live with their parents until their parents became too old to properly care for them or the parents died. Only then would the Agency for Persons with Disabilities assign them to a group home or commit them to a licensed state facility with people they have never even met.
These discoveries horrified the parents and inspired them into action to find real-world and common sense solutions which would lead to a higher quality of life for their disabled children.
What Do We Want?
The families wanted to find an existing organization that took a holistic approach to providing a balanced lifestyle for their children. One that included a safe and affordable place to live, daily activities that were fun and taught greater independent living skills, meaningful daytime activity either through employment or volunteering and a spiritual component all wrapped in a small-town community environment that embraced individuals with disabilities for their abilities and gifts.
Learning About Our Options
These families invested one year learning about a variety of organizations and service providers throughout Florida while searching for that perfect organization with a holistic approach. What they found was a fragmented and under-funded service delivery system that was highly dependent upon ongoing government funding. Because these organizations were so highly dependent upon government funding, they would have to constantly adjust the direction of their programs in order to continue to capture government funding.
Mid 1997 – Noah’s Ark is Founded
In mid-1997, Noah’s Ark was founded and another year committed to search, this time on a national basis, for that “perfect” organization with a holistic approach. The families of Noah’s Ark discovered and visited communities with holistic focus in New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Illinois. Each of these organizations had their own unique personality but had one common denominator… they were all less reliant on government funding to operate than those previously visited in Florida. The community that was closest to what the families of Noah’s Ark envisioned was Lambs Farm, in Libertyville, Illinois. This was a campus community established in 1961, and, at the time, was only receiving about 20% of their revenues from the government (as compared to 80% to 90% with organizations in Florida).
In 1998, Noah’s Ark completed its research of other residential service providers and communities across the United States. They clearly defined its mission and wrote its mission statement. In 1999, a monthly activities program was established for its participants and a series of educational workshops for families began.
2000 – Creation of High School Level Transition Class
In 2000, Noah’s Ark worked closely with the Exceptional Student Education Department of Polk County Schools to facilitate the creation of an innovative, high school level transition class that was highly focused on preparing ESE students with the skills they need to survive in “their world” (public transportation, social security, food stamps, vocational rehab, etc.), to elevate their job skills through hands-on experiences, and to get the students actually employed (not just ready for employment) before they exited the program. This public-private partnership has had up to a 90% success rate, as compared to only 7% from the traditional high school transition programs. The Transition Program was named the Best ESE Program in the State of Florida.
2001 – Forming a Partnership with First United Methodist Church of Lakeland
In 2001, another partnership, this one with the First United Methodist Church of Lakeland, was formed to build the first supported-living home. The church purchased, then donated three (3) residential lots to Noah’s Ark and also donated some seed money to get construction started.
2002 – Construction Begins on Noah’s Ark Property
In early 2002, construction was started on the first home using volunteers from both the church and Noah’s Ark. Noah’s Ark received significant community support from the Lakeland Rotary Club and other local area businesses. The first home was completed the very end of 2002 and was completely built using volunteers and donations from the community… and had no debt service.
2003 – Our First Residents Move In
In early 2003, the first three residents moved into Noah’s Nest community near Lake Morton and began to live independently. Noah’s Ark worked the remainder of the year to identify potential property for the development of The Villages at Noah’s Landing.
2004 – Noah’s Ark Successfully Acquires 56 Acres of Property
In 2004, Noah’s Ark worked in collaboration with Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Paula Dockery, and the City of Lakeland’s Community Development Department and successfully acquired 56-acres of residential development property in North Lakeland. Noah’s Ark also purchased a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home adjacent to the development property. The demand for activities and social interactions continued to intensify so the activities program was expanded from monthly to weekly using resources and volunteers from the community and family members.
2005 Noah’s Ark Awarded Commitment for Low-Interest Loan
In 2005, Noah’s Ark was awarded a commitment for a low-interest loan from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to partially fund an innovative, affordable, supportive-housing demonstration program. These funds were subsequently replaced by a $189,000 “grant” from the Florida Hurricane Housing Recovery Funds and donations from the local community.
2006 – Planning for Noah’s Landing
In 2006, Noah’s Ark retained Giles Blunden, an architect from Carrboro, North Carolina, to design a Master Site Plan for a sustainable, pedestrian-oriented, residential community now called The Villages at Noah’s Landing. Noah’s Ark completed and received approval of its conceptual site plan, its unique zoning, and Planned Unit Development (PUD) application from the City of Lakeland.
Noah’s Ark also formed another partnership, this one with the Polk County Builders Association and the Construction Technology Classes from the Polk County Schools to help build the second supported-living home at Noah’s Nest. This initiative garnered statewide attention by the Florida Homebuilders Association and a desire to use this type of community partnership as a model for other local Homebuilder Associations to replicate.
Noah’s Ark also started construction of a third supported-living home and a separate detached garage with a second story two-bedroom apartment, once again using volunteers from Noah’s Ark and the First United Methodist Church. This project was funded through donations from the community.
2007 – Two More Home Completed at Noah’s Nest
In 2007, Noah’s Ark retained a local engineering firm to complete the engineering and apply for construction permits from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for The Villages at Noah’s Landing. Off-site survey work for the utilities connections and upgrading of the access road leading to the property was also completed.
In mid-year, the construction of two more homes at Noah’s Nest was completed and six additional residents moved in and began living independently.
2008 – Noah’s Ark Presents The Villages at Noah’s Landing
In 2008, Noah’s Ark presented The Villages at Noah’s Landing at the Family CAFÉ, a statewide disability conference, and began educating families across the state on the emerging supportive residential community concept. This presentation received overwhelming support from families and restored hope to many that their adult children would be able to experience a reasonable quality of life.
The demand for activities continued to grow with the activities program adding a weekly bowling league resulting in the expansion of community volunteer opportunities.
Additionally, family education and support surfaced as a huge, unmet need. Families were unaware of what support services might be available and the critical needs to establish an appropriate guardianship and special needs trust in order to protect and provide for the future needs of their disabled adult child. Addressing those needs, Noah’s Ark established an aggressive education program to help these families and has since been recognized as a strong community resource for families by other non-profit organizations, state legislators, and the local media.
Noah’s Ark successfully advocated, then lead the charge, to get an inappropriate rule removed from the Florida Medicaid Waiver Handbook. This rule restricted the rights of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities to be able to choose where and with whom they live by establishing arbitrary quotas and other geographic restrictions.
Noah’s Ark received construction permits for the development of the residential portion of The Villages at Noah’s Landing from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
2009 – Noah’s Ark Advocates to Amend Florida Statute
In 2009, Noah’s Ark advocated to amend a Florida statute that would provide more flexibility in building licensed homes (i.e. group homes, assisted living facilities, foster homes, etc.) within a planned residential community. The proposed legislation did not survive the session, but legislators and support agencies were much better educated on the critical supportive-housing needs for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
Noah’s Ark worked with local county government and received a commitment from the county to resolve significant drainage issues along the primary street leading to the development property for The Villages at Noah’s Landing project and to resurface the roadway. This commitment eliminated approximately $450,000 in future off-site development costs for the project.
Noah’s Ark was one of the lead organizations to participate in the Alternative Residential Housing Options Work Group in Tallahassee. This work group met five full days in Tallahassee and facilitated the opportunity to better educate state agencies and stakeholders on the current and emerging needs for supported-housing for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. This was a critical step in gaining additional support for the second legislative attempt to amend the Florida statutes during the 2010 legislative session.
As the economy crashed, State Legislators were forced to make dramatic cuts in budgets and the health and human services budget (Medicaid) was hit particularly hard. In an attempt to balance the budget, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) continued to cut services to individuals with disabilities and to cut compensation rates to direct service providers. Many families were thrust into a crisis situation with no feasible solutions.
Noah’s Ark helped many families navigate “the system” as they tried to protect the health and safety of their loved ones. As a result, Noah’s Ark redirected resources to significantly ramp up their case management efforts to help families salvage as many support services as possible.
2010 – Leading the Charge to Address the Critical Supported-Housing Needs for Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
In 2010, Noah’s Ark led the charge to create and organize a statewide coalition of grassroots organizations wanting to proactively address the critical supported-housing needs for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. This coalition of grassroots organizations stretched from Jacksonville to Venice with many points in between. Families were desperately seeking a supportive community type living that would allow their disabled children a reasonable quality of life and for the parents to have peace of mind when they die.
Noah’s Ark successfully advocated to amend a Florida statute that would provide more flexibility in building licensed homes (i.e. group homes, assisted living facilities, etc.) within a planned residential community. This effort clearly brought the critical and growing need for supported-housing into focus with all state legislators and related state agencies.
Noah’s Ark actively participated in educating policymakers in the increasing demand for supported-housing by being a member of the Polk County Affordable Housing Advisory Council, participating in the Community Residential Roundtable hosted by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in Tallahassee, and presenting testimony at the Envision the Future Conference hosted by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities from Washington, D.C.
2011 – Noah’s Ark Completes Renovation of Additional Property
In 2011, Noah’s Ark completed a major rehab of the 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom, single-family home (previously purchased in 2004) in preparation of providing three additional individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live independently and also to provide a future field office during the development of the Villages at Noah’s Landing community.
Off-site engineering for a new access road connecting The Villages at Noah’s Landing property to the end of Melody Lane was completed and construction permits from the Southwest Florida Water Management District were obtained along with site access permits from Polk County government. Improvements to the master site plan and conceptual home and clubhouse designs were completed along with updates to the development budget. The Villages at Noah’s Landing project is very close to “shovel ready”.
Noah’s Ark relocated its office to a larger space to accommodate its growth and the need for support staff and private meeting space as well as greater community visibility.
2012 – Advocate the Florida Legislature
Noah’s Ark successfully advocated the Florida Legislature to appropriate funds targeted for individuals with developmental disabilities to provide affordable and accessible supported-living house. We then educated the staff at Florida Housing Finance Corporation on the critical need for supportive housing.
We dramatically expanded our family education initiatives to all areas of Florida and worked with family groups from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and Naples. We presented our Affordable Housing Program to the Madison House Autism Foundation at its conference in Washington, D.C. to help jump start a national housing initiative.
Noah’s Ark worked with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities on developing a new approach that would better leverage taxpayer resources while providing support services to a greater number of citizens with developmental disabilities.
2013 – Florida Housing Finance Corporation Recommends Noah’s Ark Receive Almost $14 million in Funding for Housing Complex
Noah’s Ark Executive Director was appointed by the Governor of Florida to serve on the Florida Developmental Disability Council (FDDC) as a parent advocate. The FDDC is a federally funded organization whose mission is to promote innovative programs and practices designed to improve the quality of life of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
The Board of Directors of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) has recommended almost $14 million in funding for the development and construction of The Villages at Noah’s Landing.
Noah’s Ark designed the N.E.A.T. (Noah’s Education, Arts & Training) Center. The Center will be the hub for resident activities at The Villages at Noah’s Landing and it will feature continuing life-skills education, music, fine arts, and culinary arts training. The N.E.A.T. Center will help facilitate the personal growth of a growing number of families joining the organization.
2014 – Completed Underwriting Requirements for Funding $14.5 Million Commitment
Completed the complex and detailed underwriting requirements to finalize the funding of a $14.5 million commitment (low-income housing tax credits, grants, and loan) to construct an affordable rental community that will provide an enhanced quality of life for up to 132 individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and provide their families with a peace of mind that their adult child will be properly cared for when they are no longer able to provide such support.
2015 – Funding Approved
Completed and closed on a $15M low income housing tax credit funding
Began construction of a $17M low income housing community for individuals with developmental disabilities
Completed two educational independent living workshops for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families
2016 – The Villages at Noah’s Landing Opens
Completed construction of a 52 unit low-income housing community for individuals with developmental disabilities. Residents start to move in over Independence Day Weekend…
Increased our capacity to serve individuals with developmental disabilities from 17 to 143 residents
Provided technical assistance and shared experiences to several other nonprofit organizations working to build similar low-income housing communities throughout the United States
2017 – Noah’s Ark 20 Year Anniversary
Our Mission Continues…
There are over 22,000 Floridians with intellectual/developmental disabilities on a “waiting list” for services. The demand for support services and family education is enormous and the support services budget through the Agency for Persons with Disabilities continues to be cut.
Noah’s Ark of Central Florida continues to support and educate individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers…