Thursday, October 14, 2010

Massachusetts mom creates home for autistic adults

From The Newburyport Current:

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. — A mother’s determination can make big things happen.

Anita Perkins (pictured) knew there was a better way for her adult daughter, Kate.

The Newburyport mother describes her second-born as “extremely autistic” and prone to “difficult behaviors.”

Perkins’ devotion and determination to help her daughter lead an independent and productive life led to the establishment of the nonprofit Katydid Foundation and the purchase and renovation of its home in Haverhill for autistic adults.

“I never intended to start [the foundation],” Perkins said. “I was looking forward to retirement after 20 years as a reporter.”

At the time Kate Perkins moved into a group home at age 22, she was not able to go out into the community, her mother said, as the sights and sounds overwhelmed her senses. After moving to a second group home, she made great strides — although it took her years to adjust after the move.

“She held a paper route for six years, in snowstorms and everything,” Anita Perkins said. “But when cuts were made, they could no longer afford for a staff member to do the route with her, and she had to give it up.”

Perkins said this interruption in her daughter’s development set off an immediate setback.

“We knew there had to be a better way to help her continue doing well.”

She said that public services are limited for adults with autism, and Massachusetts only mandates such assistance until age 21.

In 2004, the devoted mother took what was intended to be a temporary leave from her journalism career while she set out to find the best solution for Kate. Ultimately, she wanted Kate to have her own place to live, so in March of that year she bought the ramshackle duplex in Haverhill “out of desperation. I didn’t want to see my daughter lose ground after all these years.”

The house needed extensive work before it could serve its intended purpose. The first order of business was setting up the nonprofit to fund what Anita Perkins christened the Katydid Foundation, a nod to her younger daughter’s nickname.

“We work with parents and caretakers to find the right situation,” Perkins said. “There really are many options — creative ways and less-expensive ways.” The foundation also offers workshops and individual coaching.

Anita Perkins said the amount of work the house needed to suit adults with autism and the staff was daunting, from applying for grants to actually getting the renovations done. Perkins funded the foundation in part with earnings from knitting classes she taught.

The two-story house, which formerly had two units, is now a single-family dwelling with separate quarters for three women residents and up to four live-in staff members. Every detail was considered during the renovation process so that the surroundings would not over stimulate the residents. “There was a lot of thinking and planning,” Perkins said.

Residents on the spectrum are charged low-income, affordable housing rent. Clients/residents on the first floor also pay for staffing, food and transportation, if needed. Some pay privately, others have funding through public sources, such as the Department of Developmental Services.

The staff live in the house rent-free with a small stipend. Both residents and live-in staff must meet affordable housing, low-income requirements to be eligible.

Building a home

With financial help from grants, including a sizable one from the Federal Home Loan Bank in Boston, and a mortgage from Haverhill Bank, the Katydid Foundation was ready to get started. Other crucial grants were awarded by the city of Haverhill, the Pomeroy Fund, and North Shore HOME Funds.

But even with money in the bank, there were delays: the economy had faltered, and the construction industry was affected. Many builders had to lay off employees and reduce their schedules by putting off slated projects. The Katydid project needed to be refigured to a smaller scale.

Kelly Perkins, Anita Perkins’ elder daughter, had mentioned the situation to her employer, Fred Schultz. Schultz is the founder of Stolz & Ehre, the commercial construction company where Kelly Perkins works as a project manager. Although he too was hard-hit by the recession, Schultz volunteered his services for the extensive renovation project.

That generous gesture saved the Katydid Foundation more than $90,000 — and four months on the calendar. The project was done in eight months instead of the scheduled 12, and it came in under the financial budget, too.

Wayne Capolupo, CEO of Salisbury-based SPS New England, has a daughter on the autism spectrum. He also volunteered his company, which does a lot of highway and bridge work in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for the excavation work required at the Katydid Foundation’s Haverhill property.

The Katydid Foundation is currently taking residential applications from women with autism. They are also seeking applicants for live-in staff members interested in a long-term position at the home. Consistency is crucial for the well-being of autistic people, so staff turnover is best kept to an absolute minimum. Training will be provided.