Perhaps the greatest fear that parents of a child with special needs have is what will become of the child when they die or can no longer care for them.
Tom Welch of Olney, the father of two daughters with developmental disabilities, acted on this fear to create Rosaria Communities, a nonprofit affiliated with the Archdiocese of Washington.
“From a parent’s perspective, you spend your life advocating for their educational needs and therapy requirements, but when they turn 21, they are turned loose from the school system,” Welch said. “From an advocacy standpoint, you wonder what is next, what will happen when you can’t take care of them?”
Welch said church always has been an integral part of his family’s life, and especially important to his two daughters, who actively participated as altar servers and who always received support from the St. Peter’s parish community.
“There are organizations that do a great job of providing physical care, but how can we attend to their spiritual needs?” he asked.
He worked with Monsignor Ralph Kuehner, a retired priest known for his dedication to service. Kuehner is credited with founding Victory Housing for the elderly and So Others May Eat.
“He was the perfect guy for me to hook up with to get Rosaria started,” Welch said.
Rosaria’s mission is to work with parishes to support creating independent living opportunities for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
Rosaria opened its first home at St. Rose of Lima in Germantown in 2009, and the second home, sponsored by St. John the Evangelist in Silver Spring, opened in 2112. Each home houses three men.
In 2013, Rosaria completed the acquisition and renovation of St. Peter’s House, a project sponsored by the St. Peter’s community in Olney.
On March 1, the Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, blessed St. Peter’s House, an unassuming, independent home for people with intellectual disabilities within the parish community,.
“The blessing was beautiful,” said Mary Lynne Boss, executive director of Rosaria Communities. “Despite the weather, there were about 40 people there.”
Three women, all in their 50s, live in the Olney Mill home, along with a full-time caregiver.
Boss said two of the women have Down syndrome, and the third also is intellectually impaired. The first moved in about a year ago, and the others moved in over the past few months.
“They are truly integrated in the community and the Olney community has been so warm and welcoming,” Boss said.
The St. Peter’s sponsorship includes a ministry to integrate the residents of a Rosaria home into the parish’s spiritual and social life.
The project is a public-private partnership.
While St. Peter’s supports the home spiritually, the parish assumes no financial obligation.
In addition to private donations, the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs provided 50 percent of the funding to purchase and renovate the home, in the form of a loan.
Rosaria raises money through an annual appeal and fundraisers including a successful golf tournament. The organization owns the house and residents pay a minimal monthly rent.
Jubilee Association, affiliated with the Mennonite Church, provides live-in care for the residents.
Potomac Community Resources provides therapeutic, recreational, social and respite care, plus resources for families and supportive members of the parish community, to teach them how to help the residents.
Jubilee also handles placing the residents. The residents become a family, so it takes time to find the right mix.
“We like to serve our parishioners first, but the idea is to provide housing, engage with the residents, and bring them into the parish,” Welch said.
Because of public funding, the residents need not be Catholic. In St. Peter’s House, two of the women are Catholic, while the other will proudly state that she is a “devout Presbyterian.”
“We don’t do this because they are Catholic,” Welch said. “We do it because we are.”
Welch said that like its predecessors, St. Peter’s Home is working out great.
“The parish community is so involved and supportive,” he said. “The parishioners help the residents celebrate holidays, decorate for Christmas and participate in parish activities. They try to be respectful of their time and privacy, and just want to be friendly neighbors.”
Welch said Rosaria is working with the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission to fund the next project, which could be through Holy Redeemer Parish in Kensington or St. Andrew’s in Silver Spring. More information about the group is at rosariacommunitiesinc.org.
Ideally, the group looks for a rambler or ranch-style home, as the residents may have ambulatory problems. Because the idea is for the residents to age in place, the houses are renovated to be handicapped accessible.
Welch said neighbors are notified, and once they learn of the population, they are generally very supportive. The homes host cookouts, not only for the parish community, but also for neighbors.
“Neighbors are always welcome, and they do drop in,” Welch said.
The residents typically attend day programs outside the house. The caregiver makes sure they are up, dressed, groomed and ready to go each morning. Like a typical family, evenings are spent together, watching television, talking or playing games.
“It’s pretty normal, and that’s our objective,” Welch said.