Matt Meyer is a 25-year-old man with autism. He is high-needs, and is lovingly cared for by his parents.
“He’s so innocent. He’s full of love. He doesn’t always — can’t always tell you what he’s thinking, but he means so well,” said Matt’s younger brother, Patrick Dolan.
Matt’s parents, Kathy and Harry Meyer, worry about what will happen to Matt when they’re gone. Who will take care of him?
“Right now, that’s all of our worries. What is going to happen?” said Kathy Meyer. “It’s not realistic for a family member to do what we have been doing. It’s not sustainable.”
Kathy and Harry visited a community in Massachusetts where people with autism and senior citizens interacted together regularly — and an idea was born.
They decided to create a community similar to it, where senior citizens and special people could coexist, with the seniors watching out for the younger members and providing a safe, secure environment.
“Two groups who have high risk for isolation and loneliness, and two groups who their needs actually dovetail pretty well,” Meyer said.
“The seniors, for example, one of the first things they need as they age, is help with house cleaning. There are many people on the autism spectrum who love to clean. We think that there could be some real opportunities of bringing these two basic groups together.”
The Meyers founded E.N.C., the Everyone Needs a Community organization, in order to help bring this idea to life in their area.
The Meyers plan to build the first community in Marshfield, WI, where they live, and if it is successful, they plan to expand. Called Treehaven, it will be an affordable housing community centered around concepts like support, acceptance, looking out for each other, independence, and enjoying life.
“This is not a community where grouches will find happiness,” their website quips. “It will be a community full of social faux pas and learning. Our seniors and our special members will each learn from one another as we nurture relationships among all of our members.”
The Meyers have already begun talking with developers and have a few potential sites in mind for their community. They also have fundraisers planned.
“The ideal, for people with disabilities right now, is to live out in the community,” said Meyer. “It’s a community, it’s not a nursing home. We are not going to be running the lives of the people there. Our organization would be working hand in hand with the management of the property and with social services to help create relationships through volunteer activities within the community. We need to combat loneliness.”
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