A dream is born: The story of Austin’s House.
Austin is a young man who has a smile that will light up a room, loves to listen to country music, and watches television shows that run the gamut for the young to the old. He’ll watch almost any sport on television with his dad and brothers, but because of an intense anxiety disorder, can’t handle actually attending a game of any kind. Austin enjoys young children, and young children seem to be drawn to him, as well. He shows love and compassion with a smile and a touch. Austin has been challenged by various neurological disorders since his earliest years, including autism, seizures, an anxiety disorder…the list could continue. As disabilities go, Austin’s are considered severe.
Austin is our son, and we have long decreed that Austin would live with us until we die. I guess it’s easy to make such a statement when you’re young and full of energy. As anyone getting on in age knows, the energy and strength go right along with the years. Throughout the past several years, this realization has begun to hit home with us, though we are far from considering ourselves old.
As the (now retired) local Lansing State Journal columnist, John Schneider, wrote in his article dated June 21, 2007, “[There is] reluctance on the part of the parents to leave their vulnerable children to an indifferent world. A world, in any case, that could never provide the love and protection – the patience, understanding and self-sacrifice – the parents could.” While reading these words, we knew them to be true. It was just this belief that had fueled our desire to keep Austin living with us.
But what do we do with the hopelessness we sometimes experience when caring for our special needs child, especially as we face our own aging and mortality? How do we consider our child living elsewhere when there is no place close to home? We began to ask ourselves these questions, but then others as well. What if there was a home in our small community of people we trust that could meet Austin’s needs and others who are challenged daily with developmental disabilities? Could we let go enough to allow Austin to live as independently as he is able outside our home? Would he be happier living in a different family setting than ours? It was in asking all of these questions and many more, and facing some difficult truths within ourselves, that the dream of “Austin’s House” was born. It is our hope that others will see our dream for what it is –a way to give parents and families of our children with disabilities some measure of hope that there is a loving, caring and happy life for our children beyond our capacity to care for them ourselves.
Through the help and guidance of caring individuals who possessed the knowledge we lacked, a non-profit, tax exempt corporation was formed on January 25, 2007 called Austin’s House. A board of dedicated and compassionate community individuals was put into place. The board currently consists of seven individuals, some of whom are parents of children with disabilities, as well as individuals who simply share a great love of all humanity and see the value and dignity of all.
The goal of Austin’s House is to address the housing needs of all individuals with developmental disabilities, regardless of religious and/or ethnic background, who are interested in staying in their community. Austin’s House is concentrating its efforts in the locale of Westphalia, Michigan and its surrounding communities within the mid-Michigan area.