Monday, December 18, 2006

Home Sweet Home of Their Own

BRADENTON - Tommy Henselder is thrilled with his new condo at Mirror Lake.

It literally gave him a new lease on an independent life.

He's in it thanks to Community Affordable Supportive Living, a nonprofit coalition that provides housing for people with developmental disabilities. CASL owns 31 homes and condos that house about 70 disabled residents in Sarasota, Manatee, Lee and Alachua counties.

John Johnson, a life coach from Manasota ARC - a local agency that assists developmentally disabled children and adults - helps clients like Henselder adjust to their new homes.

"It's my job to work myself out of a job by helping him be independent," Johnson said. "Tommy has great concentration. Once he locks onto something, he's got it."

The 60-year-old Henselder was so excited a visitor was coming to see his new digs that he eagerly waited in the parking lot, ready to begin the tour.

"I've got a bus stop right out front and come and look at this," Henselder said as he threw open his front door.

"This is the living room," he said proudly. "And this is the couch and here's the TV . . .

"And look at this," he said, scurrying through the dining room into his bedroom. "This is my brand new TV - a Magnavox - 24 inches."

He traced his finger across the screen.

"Have you ever seen one like this before?" Henselder asked, pointing at the built-in DVD and video tape player.

"All I do is punch this button here, and the little door pops open for the movie and then . . ."

He spun around and plopped down on his bed with the big, green pillows.

"Here comes the movie."

The music had no more than started when Henselder jumped up and ran to his aquarium. He reached in and shifted a big rock.

"And guess who this is . . . Tommy, my turtle."

Independent living

And possibly the best part about the new apartment: The affordable $250 rent Henselder's paying from his disability income. When his roommate moved out of apartment he was in earlier this year, Henselder was stuck with a $700 rent he couldn't afford.

That's where CASL comes in.

The coalition was founded about 10 years ago by Charles E. Richards, a former Sarasota County commissioner who wanted to help those with disabilities to live independently in clean homes in safe neighborhoods.

Using a combination of state housing funds, community foundation grants and private contributions, the group buys properties, then serves as the real estate owner while the tenants receive services from in-home support service groups like Manasota ARC.

Richards was impressed with Henselder when they signed the lease.

"Tommy was a real gentleman," Richards said in a phone interview. "He seemed really happy to be in his new home, which is so much better than his previous arrangement."

'She'd be proud'

Now, Henselder shares the two bedrooms, two-bath condo with a young woman who is also disabled. As clients of Manasota ARC, they receive support services daily and on weekends.

Henselder has a tight daily schedule, beginning at 8:15 a.m. when the agency's bus picks him up for vocational training. At 4 p.m. the bus brings him home where he has two hours to himself. Johnson arrives at 6 p.m. to work with Henselder until 8 p.m.

Dozens of pictures sit on top Henselder's bureau in his bedroom. One of his favorites is a big picture of his family, his sisters with their husbands and children and, in the center, his mother, who passed away in March.

He picked up the photo and gently touched his mother's face.

"She's up there now," he said, pointing to the ceiling, "in heaven."

When asked what he thought his mother would say if she could see his new home, Henselder beamed.

"She'd be real proud of me," he said.

Herald Staff Writer

I used to work at Manasota ARC. That place is disgusting. And this is not a homeless issue. Let that place use all that money from their big fundraisors to pay this guys rent. Homless means you don't have a home for real and have to sleep on a bench or in a shelter. That guys whole life makes money for MARC. Ask them how much money they get just to put him on the bus every day. What a joke.
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