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New group home breaks ground in Warrenton

Monday, Jan. 7 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
GROUP HOME: Linda Reid and Marilyn McCombe put on hard hats at a groundbreaking for a group home on Millfield Drive in Warrenton. --Staff photo/Randy Litzinger

Within the next month or two, the foundation will be poured for construction of a group home in Warrenton.

Four adults in their 40s and 50s, who are moderately to severely intellectually disabled, will live in the house. Some of the Home's new residents may also be physically disabled.

A staff member will be on-site around the clock. This requirement will create six to seven new jobs, said Brian Duncan, executive director of Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services (RRCS).

The 4,000-square-foot house will be located on about one-third of an acre in a subdivision at 7829 Millfield Drive, near where Millfield Drive dead-ends, and across the street from Heritage Presbyterian Church.

The structure will be a one-story brick building with a varied roof-line, said Duncan. RRCS will own and operate the home.

Neighbors have mixed reactions.

Between them, Tara Dekker and Chelsea Tippett have four children under the age of 6. They are concerned about their children's safety while playing outside.

On the other hand, Chuck Mason is comfortable with the prospect of intellectually disabled neighbors. When the concept was presented to the Fauquier Board of Supervisors about two years ago, Mason attended to speak in favor of the group home.

"I alienated my neighbors by saying it was OK," said Mason.

Marilyn McCombe and Linda Reid also supported the group home at the board of supervisors' meeting.

McCombe is president of The Arc of North Central Virginia, and Reid is a member. The Arc provides information and advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

There was a lot of opposition from neighbors at the meeting, said Reid.

"When you advocate for people with disabilities, that's what you face," McCombe said.

Duncan met with a community group two years ago.

Reid plans to hold a gathering for the neighborhood in the spring at Heritage Presbyterian Church. There residents will have the opportunity to get answers to questions.

"Awareness is the first step toward acceptance," Reid said.

The four residents will hail from the five-county region served by RRCS -- Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Orange and Madison -- and either live in an institution like the Central Virginia Training Center or would typically be a candidate for one. They may have family in the area.

Compared to a training center, these smaller programs provide better care, Duncan said. Residents will participate in activities away from the home. They may work in a sheltered workshop.

The group home is part of an overall movement in Virginia to transition adults out of training center facilities to community-based environments.

In 2011, Gov. Robert McDonnell received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), stating that Virginia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not offering services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities "in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs." And, the letter cited Virginia for "needless and prolonged institutionalization" in training centers.

Furthermore, the letter described a lengthy waiting list for community-based services, including 3,000 people whose need was "urgent."

The DOJ examined Virginia because of its history of having a dramatically higher percentage compared to the rest of the nation of people being cared for in facility systems rather than community-based, Duncan said.

Part of the settlement agreement that Virginia made with the DOJ was to enhance community-based programs.

Toward this end, the Virginia General Assembly established a trust fund to increase the number of group homes in the state. Financing for Warrenton's group home comes from this fund, said Duncan.
According to the DOJ, the average cost of housing an individual in a training center is $194,000 annually. In comparison, it costs $76,400 in the community.

A ground-breaking event for the home took place Dec. 13. Duncan expects it to be ready for occupancy by July or August 2013.

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