CENTRAL – On March 14, Southern Wesleyan University announced the development of the initial phase of a unique special needs housing community representing a new type of living/learning community that will prepare its residents with special needs and disabilities for more independent lives.
Phase I of the community consists of 9,371 square-feet of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant apartment-style living space to be built on 3.4 acres of university property located between Wesleyan Drive and College Street.
The $1.7 million phase represents a partnership between Southern Wesleyan and the Disabilities and Special Needs Boards of Pickens and Anderson Counties, the South Carolina Board of Disabilities and Special Needs and several other supporters.
Included in the Phase I project design is one four-bedroom unit, seven two-bedroom units, two one-bedroom units, staff facilities and common space. Also included will be a one-quarter mile walking trail and a covered van drop-off. Completion is expected by August 2017.
Southern Wesleyan President Dr. Todd Voss said the project supports the university’s vision for inventive learning and contagious generosity.
“With March being Disabilities and Special Needs Awareness Month, we thought this was an ideal time to make this announcement,” Voss said. “These apartments will house special needs friends along with Southern Wesleyan University students to serve as mentors in the process of preparing our friends for independent living and work.”
Elaine Thena, executive director of Pickens County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, said that the special needs housing community will offer “all kinds of unique opportunities” for people with special needs and disabilities, including access to Catbus (Clemson Area Transit), providing a means to go shopping, to the movies, and other places without having to rely on someone else to take them there.
Thena characterized the initiative as a unique opportunity unlike any other known in the nation.
Tyler Rex, executive director of Anderson County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, said that the housing community represents a continuation in improvements to the way people with special needs and disabilities are being served.
“There will be 11 friends with disabilities and special needs living side by side with nine students initially in phase one,” Rex said. “One day hopefully a student involved in this program will say this program is wonderful, but we can do better, we can go to that next step. I don’t know what that next step is, but I’m confident someone who’s going to be touched by this program will have that vision and say ‘we can do a little better.’”
Dr. Lisa McWherter, Southern Wesleyan’s vice president for advancement, outlined the architectural site and structural floor plan renderings for the first of three phases of the community as well as the many benefits its residents will realize by being integrated into the Southern Wesleyan University community.
In addition to being paired with a Southern Wesleyan student mentor, additional opportunities McWherter outlined include dining, mingling and relaxing in the dining commons and university coffee shop, utilizing university athletic facilities, attending athletic and fine arts events, working on or off campus thanks to Catbus access, enjoying student and community activities like homecoming and area festivals, and becoming a part of music and performance groups.
SWU will host Area 14 Special Olympics (Anderson Districts 1-4) on April 6. Admission is free. The Opening Ceremony will start at 9:45 a.m.
“Once again Southern Wesleyan University is a leader in showing a better way of life that demonstrates a God-given spirit to help others. Those being served and those they will serve will have a life-changing experience due to this program,” Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee) said in remarks read by Ethan Cashwell, Southern Wesleyan’s coordinator for alumni relations and special events.
District 6 Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, praised the project as an example of forward thinking related to serving citizens with disabilities and special needs.
“This part of the world is trailblazing, and we’ve been trailblazers for quite some time. I don’t think you get enough credit for that,” White said.
Recognizing retired T.L. Hanna Coach Harold Jones and James “Radio” Kennedy, who were present for the announcement and whose story became a major motion picture, White gave an example of the coach’s forward thinking decades ago.
Another example White gave is how Walgreen’s took a gamble to employ people with disabilities when they developed a distribution center in Anderson County.
“Anything we can do from a state aspect, we’re here to help you and get out of your way. You all know how to do it better than we do,” White said.
White also praised Clemson Area Transit for the role it will play in providing transportation for the housing community.
“This really warms my heart to see this innovation, this collaboration between government and a private university to enrich lives of others, to bring these individuals with special needs on campus, for them to be able to interact with students, faculty, community members,” said District 3 Rep. Gary Clary (R-Pickens).
“What I’m really excited about is who is really going to benefit from this – it’s going to be the students here at SWU and the culture at SWU,” District 5 Rep. Neal Collins (R-Pickens) said.
The announcement was well attended with almost 200 people present and was hosted by Southern Wesleyan University’s advancement office. Contact McWherter at [email protected] for more information.
This story courtesy of Southern Wesleyan University.