Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Constructing a 'Meaningful Life'; Ponte Vedra Beach Group Home to Benefit Young Women with Autism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Constructing a 'Meaningful Life'; Ponte Vedra Beach Group Home to Benefit Young Women with Autism

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

PALM VALLEY | At first glance, the two-story house under construction on South Roscoe Boulevard in Palm Valley could be the future home of anyone with a green thumb and an agricultural bent.

There is a large organic garden out front and a chicken coop out back.

But the Peace of Heart Home is the prototype of a new kind of long-term group home for young women with autism. The garden and chicken coop are among several fundraising arms for the cause.

Expected to be complete by early next year, the home will feature family and community engagement, vocational training and networking. Phase 2 will be the "gathering place," a standalone building for residents and the community, where garden and art workshops, book clubs, social events and training for people with autism will be offered.

The goal is to give six local young women "an opportunity for a meaningful life" and provide a new group-home model for other communities, said Howard Groshell, whose daughter, Gentry, will be one of the Peace of Heart residents.

"Life is a gift," he said. "A meaningful life is a task."

STARTING ON THEIR OWN

The Peace of Heart Community - the nonprofit steering the project - was founded by Groshell and wife Amy in 2014 with their daughter in mind.

Gentry, 21, who is profoundly autistic, lives in an Orange Park group home. She is safe and well cared for there but isolated from the community. Her parents wanted more for the creative Gentry, whose art work is another fundraiser for Peace of Heart.

"It was not where we wanted her to be for the rest of her life," Groshell said.

They worried about the rest of her life, as do many parents of the growing numbers of special-needs young people aging out of school system programs. They could not find the group home they envisioned, so after much debate, much pondering about the impact on their three other children, they decided to start one of their own.

"We have to do this, create a prototype group home," he said. "An environment that can be all inclusive [with the community]."

Building the 2,500-square-foot house and equipping it for its special-needs residents will cost about $775,000, which is being funded by fundraising, donations and grants. Medicaid will pay most of the residents' expenses once it opens. In the fall, a capital campaign will be launched for the "gathering place," which is expected to cost about $125,000, said development director Kim Hitchcock.

Meanwhile, a Northeast Florida nonprofit called HEAL, Helping Enrich Autistic Lives, has given Peace of Heart a $12,500 grant for a small outdoor pavilion similar to a picnic shelter. Founder Leslie Weed said her daughter Lanier, who has autism and lives in the same Orange Park group home as Gentry, will be one of the residents of the new group home. …

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