ArchCare at St. Teresa on Staten Island will open this summer to house independent young adults with autism spectrum disorder, ArchCare President and CEO Scott LaRue said at a press conference Jan. 17.
The $3 million project to convert a former convent on the St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus parish campus into nine private studio apartments for young adults 21 and older with autism will be completed in June. In August, tenants will begin moving into their studio apartments, which will have a small kitchen with a stove, refrigerator and microwave; bathroom; and a combined living room, dining room and sleeping area.
ArchCare, the health care system of the archdiocese, is giving Staten Island residents first consideration for residency.
“We could not be prouder of the local community, Cardinal Dolan and St. Teresa parish because this creates an opportunity for individuals,” LaRue told CNY.
“There’s really no housing solutions for individual with autism over the age of 21. So this project is the first of its kind in the state where individuals will be able to live independently and to collectively organize their own community in terms of how they want to live, what they’d like to do and what services they might want in their apartments.”
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One of every 59 children born in the United States in 2006 was diagnosed with autism by age 8. By comparison, one of every 150 children born in 1992 was diagnosed with autism during the same time period in their lives.
LaRue said Cardinal Dolan expressed an interest in using empty archdiocese buildings like the convent to help meet community needs in a meeting the two had three years ago. “(Staten Island) had a disproportionate share of young adults with autism,” LaRue said. “So the need appeared to be greater than it was in some other parts of the archdiocese, and, of course, we’ve had some wonderful support from the local community and elected officials, which made it easy for us to get this up and running.”
LaRue said he is hopeful ArchCare’s pilot project on Staten Island will be the start, and that similar projects will be undertaken throughout the archdiocese. “We didn’t consider this project a success unless it was one we could replicate in the archdiocese. So that has been our goal,” he said.
Msgr. William Belford, pastor of St. Teresa for six years, has been keeping parishioners and parish neighbors updated on the new community being constructed. He distributed a letter with the ArchCare press release to the parish neighbors on the day of the press conference. The letter included an invitation for coffee, conversation about ArchCare at St. Teresa and a visit to the construction site Jan. 26.
“The people of our parish and our neighbors have been very supportive,” Msgr. Belford said. “We’re turning an empty building into a happy home and that’s a good thing.
“Patience is rewarded and this is ideal. It’s a benefit to the parish in that we may have new members and we also receive income because this is a lease now that we signed for 35 years.”
Father Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and chancellor for the archdiocese, and Msgr. Peter Finn, pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish and dean of Staten Island, joined Msgr. Belford at the press conference, which was held at the ArchCare site.
“It’s wonderful in the challenging age of which we live that our emphasis is on reaching out and helping those who are in need of that assistance. It’s exciting for the people and parishioners of St. Teresa who have opened their arms and hearts to those in need,” Msgr. Finn said.
Joe and Maryann Granello, both 76, have been married 55 years and are longtime parishioners of St. Teresa. “It is such an exciting day because we had an empty convent and we’re putting it to use to help God’s children be independent. We feel we are a part of something special,” Joe said.
Maryann added that she hopes “it works out because it’s going to help out a lot of families. I hope they are going to be happy here.”
Information about housing applications: https://www.archcare.org/community-resources/autism-housing/apply-housing