Yvette Roberts, who is mentally retarded and physically handicapped, has lived at home under the watchful eye of her mother, Hazel Roberts, for 21 years.
Five years ago Hazel Roberts formed a support group with 13 other parents of severely disabled children who share a distrust of government-run institutions and a firm belief that they can best provide for their children.
Then reality struck home.
"We're getting older," Roberts said, leaning on a cane. "We began to realize that we're falling apart too -- physically. We have to make sure that if something happens to us, our children are taken care of."
Yesterday, on a barren lot in far Northeast Washington, Roberts and others in the group, called Concerned Parents of Special Children, took a symbolic step toward realizing that goal in a ground-breaking ceremony for construction of a $450,000 home for their children.
The seven-bedroom hospice, to be built at 6010 Dix St. NE, has been designed by the Voca Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, and is expected to open next September, according to Voca spokesman Milton Roberts. The one-story, brick "ranch-like" house will have a rotating staff of 60 persons to provide round-the-clock care, he said.
"The whole goal was to have the best for our children," said Betty Ferrell, whose 20-year-old daughter Angela will be a resident of the home. "That's why we kept them at home in the first place. Our children are totally dependent. When you have children who need diapers, feeding, who have seizures and are on medication, that's where the problems [with institutionalizing them] came."
Separation from Angela "will be rough," she said. "I really don't want to do it, but I'm getting older and I'd like her to be settled while I'm still living. If I can manage that, I'll be satisifed."
"The facility, once built, becomes certified under Medicaid," said VOCA spokesman Roberts, and part of the hospice will be financed with funds available to the parents because of their children's participation in the Medicaid program. "The interesting thing here is that once the mortgage is retired, Voca turns over the building and the land to the parent group, and it becomes an asset of theirs at no cost to them."
"The thing we want to impress is, this is not going to be an institution, a place where parents leave children and then forget they exist . . . . It's going to be different in that the parents will be part of the facility," said Virginia Williams, executive director of Concerned Parents.
"The main concern was that most of the youngsters were aging out of existing government services" that are provided by the D.C. public school system, which has programs for the handicapped,
Williams said parents will contribute to the cost of some programs and services at the home, will be involved in hiring staff and will play a role in cooking meals and planning activities for the residents. In addition, she hopes that parents will make the home the beneficiary of wills and trusts to ensure continued financial support.
"I think this is a dream come true," Ferrell said, "because now we can have some control and make sure things are done right."