When Jerry Manuel took his first psychology class in college years ago, the life expectancy for people with developmental disabilities like Down syndrome was about 18 years.
Today, as the executive director of Osprey Village on Hilton Head Island, he’s watched that change.
“Now, developmentally disabled people are getting better care,” he said. “They aren’t institutionalized, and they’re living to be 70 years old.”
And while the improved life expectancy is great news, it brings unexpected challenges: As parents of developmentally disabled adults age, they’re faced with how to care for their dependent children — and what will happen to those children when the parents die or are no longer able to be the main caregivers. It’s a serious concern, Manuel said: Currently, he estimates, there are about 5,000 developmentally disabled people in South Carolina on a waiting list for services.
Manuel, who spent 40 years working with developmentally disabled people before he retired to the Lowcountry five years ago, has been working with Osprey Village for about four years. The organization was founded in 2008 by a group of parents concerned about the futures of their developmentally disabled adult children. The 501(c)(3) organization serves residents of Beaufort and Jasper counties by offering job training and respite care to parents and caregivers — and, in some cases, health care. Osprey Village recently accepted a grant to provide reproductive education to women.
“We are the only ones doing reproductive education for developmentally disabled adults in the nation,” said Julie Kuhns, director of operations of Osprey Village. “At the same time, we know cancers and health problems of those kinds affect this population.”
The organization’s ultimate goal is to develop a residential community with safe and secure housing for adults with developmental disabilities — a place where residents can live independently, access services, and make a contribution. And things are starting to come together: Last year, Argent Landholdings donated 63 acres across from Oldfield Plantation in Hardeeville to the group. The land is part of the 7,300-acre East Argent Planned Development District, which will bring up to 9,500 residential units and 1,500,000 square feet of commercial retail and office space to the area over the next 20 years. Twenty-five acres are buildable and can be developed to include up to 140 residential units.
“Osprey Village will be a fun place to live and a safe, secure environment,” Manuel said.
Currently, the project is waiting on infrastructure and roads to be complete, and Osprey Village plans to break ground on the development within the next two years. The first phase of construction will include 50 affordable residential units with space for adults with special needs, as well as family members and caregivers who want to live in the community with their loved ones.
Already, Osprey Village is working to teach future residents how to make themselves at home.
“The goal is to prepare (residents) for living in the community,” Kuhns said. Programs focus on independent living, teaching skills like how to do laundry, how to prepare a meal, and how to use public transportation. For example, participants learn how to use Uber to hail a ride, and also enjoy fun activities like baseball games and fitness classes. Participants also learn job skills and communication, and are paired with local companies and colleges for industry-specific and on-the-job training.
Osprey Village also has partnered with Just Love Coffee Roasters to develop a signature coffee blend; 36 percent of the proceeds from sales of the coffee will go to Osprey Village. The group also has two thrift stores whose sales help support its efforts. These fundraisers also provide opportunities for Osprey Village’s participants to become involved in the community — something Kuhns said they are very interested in.
This fall, after multiple requests from participants, Osprey Village will expand its offerings with a volunteer program that will give residents even more of a chance to contribute to the community.
“I read almost every day about workforce shortages,” Manuel said. “These people can fill workforce needs and make a contribution that right now is not available to them.”
SUPPORT OSPREY VILLAGE
To order Just Love Coffee and for more information about Osprey Village go to www.ospreyvillage.org.