The mission of Next Step Berks:
To create supportive housing to foster inclusive neighborhoods in Berks County that allow adults with developmental disabilities and seniors to do more together.
Across America, hundreds of thousands of aging parents are caring for adult children unable to live on their own due to intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including autism.
Many people with I/DD and Autism Spectrum Disorders have serious difficulty accessing support services and finding employment. There is also a shortage of suitable housing, including in Berks County.
Nancy Boyer and Wendy Bonn, two mothers of autistic adult children who have been friends since their children were very young, have struggled with these issues for years, wondering what would happen to their children if they were no longer able to look after them. They decided to act.
Boyer, with help from Bonn, founded Next Step Berks, a 501C3 nonprofit that seeks to create an intentional community providing housing and support services for seniors and adults with I/DD.
“The idea is to create a real community where people with I/DD and older adults can benefit from the supports provided and from each other,” said Boyer, Founder and President.
Bonn is treasurer of Next Step Berks and a member of the board of directors.
What the intentional community model looks like
Using a community model provided by Three Oaks, a Michigan-based company that designs and builds inclusive neighborhoods, their site plans call for a privately funded community, with individuals or families purchasing homes for people with disabilities. an I/DD and 55-and-on residents.
The plan also includes green spaces for recreation and gardens, a store, a greenhouse and a community center.
The Intentional Community is intended to provide safe and supportive living space for I/DD residents, and manageable, intelligent housing for other residents who choose to purchase homes in the community.
“We know this model works because it has been used successfully in other areas,” Boyer explained. “Research has shown that there is a unique link between older people and adults with developmental disabilities when it comes to housing needs.
An advantage is that the houses are private property, the residents cannot be moved involuntarily. Home ownership provides peace of mind and encourages independence, Boyer noted, creating a stable and reliable living environment.
It also allows adults with I/DD to enjoy the company of others and live a vibrant social life.
“We just want to know that our kids will be safe and happy,” Bonn said. “While we love them and want to take care of them, we also want them to have an adult life with people their own age.”
View the NSB sitemap here.
Next Step Berks Goals
Boyer, an elementary school teacher in the Wyomissing school district, and Bonn, who retired after a career in accounting and finance, worked tirelessly to move this project forward. Their worry, of course, is that they will become unable as they age to provide the care their children need, and they are eager to create a chance for their secure and fulfilling future.
Their goal at this point is to connect with other parents of adult children with ID/DD and autism, and to help educate the general community about the needs and concerns of this population. They are hoping that someone with suitable land might hear about the project and agree to sell to them.
Research has shown that 73% of people with I/DD live with a caregiver and 29% live with a caregiver aged 60 or older. In addition to facing housing shortages, adults with I/DD and autism often struggle to find jobs and support services.
Next Step Berks Board Members and Consultants
Next Step Berks board members are Boyer; Bonn; Tom McKeon, former executive director of the Berk County Industrial Development Authority, who is also vice president; and Brenda Boyer, principal of the Twin Valley School District, who also serves as secretary.
Also, Mark McGaffin, Director of Public Relations for Goodwill Keystone Area, and Cory Trevena, Senior Director of Caron’s Education Department.
The nonprofit is consulting with Burkey Construction on possible locations for the community. Its advisory group consists of Bradley Davis and Colin Macfarlane, legal advisers to Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys; Daniel Waszkiewicz, Tax Advisor to Herbein + Company, Inc., and Nick Matthews, Digital Media Advisor.
“We are blessed to have caring, caring people working with us,” Boyer said. “We are still in the early stages, but we are confident that we will continue to move forward.”
How you can help
Anyone interested in learning more about Next Step Berks and its Planned Living Community can get information and contact Boyer through the group’s website at nextstepberks.org.
The organization seeks to connect with families of adults with I/DD, including autism, both about housing and other issues facing this population.
“It really takes a whole village,” Bonn said. “We all do better when we connect and support each other.”
Next Step Berks management noted that finding suitable land for an intentional community will be a challenge, but they are hoping someone can find out what space is available and let them know.
Meet the President and Treasurer of Next Step Berks
You can watch an interview with Nancy Boyer and Wendy Bonn and learn more about Next Step Berks and their work on the BCTV show “Centering on Peace.” The show will premiere on BCTV and stream online at www.bctv.org on Tuesday from 9-10 p.m., after which it will be available online to watch anytime.