By CHUCK BALLARO – | Oct 5, 2023
A little over a year ago, Hurricane Ian wiped out the North Fort Myers riverfront house that adults with developmental disabilities have called home for more than 25 years. Five adults were displaced and are now living in temporary housing.
Come April, those adults with special needs will again have a place they can call home. On Thursday, LARC –Lee Association for Remarkable Citizens — held the groundbreaking on a new group home in Cape Coral which will replace the home that was destroyed.
Angela Katz, LARC executive director, said this “dream home” will house six residents and serve as a sanctuary for some of Lee County’s most vulnerable people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.
“It will be a haven to the residents we serve. Some of the residents have been with us for more than 20 years, and many of those who live with us do so their entire lives,” Katz said. “They have a range of ages and a range of abilities. The more they age, the more assistance they need.”
Austin Clinton, president of LARC’s board of directors, said the road leading to this was bumpy and shattered the residents’ sense of security.
“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter, a testament to our commitment to those we serve. A significant step forward in rebuilding our home and independence to our residents,” Clinton said.
The house will have six bedrooms, four baths and 4,800 square feet of living space. It will be ADA compliant and will create the highest level of independence, and provide its residents with a sanctuary.
“We want to go home at night and feel comfortable and safe with our family. It’s no different than any other home,” Katz said.
The cost of the house is around $1 million, with much of it coming from insurance, money saved for renovation on the old house, and the sale of the property. They are still trying to raise around $200,000 to fund the remainder, Katz said.
The site was given to LARC years ago and they considered building a home there in 2021. However, the timing wasn’t right. Katz said the hurricane made the decision an easy one.
Currently, those who lived in the old house, who lost everything, including mementos, are with their families or are bunking with LARC’s other residents in Fort Myers. They will move to a transitional home next week.
“This will return them to some kind of normalcy while they wait for this home to be completed. The loss of the other house was terribly traumatic. All they had was their overnight bags they had taken to a shelter,” Katz said. “They wanted to go back home, and they couldn’t understand until we drove past the home so they could understand there was no going back.”
The new home is being built with the help of Stephen R. Bowen Construction and Dwayne Bergmann Interiors. Bowen, who has worked with LARC for a while, said this is a big day.
“We’ve partnered with LARC for about a decade, and they lost one of their group homes in the storm. This gives them a home from the ground up and has all the features they have needed,” Bowen said. “The fact so many people showed up today shows the great way LARC will be able to continue their mission.”
LARC provides 24-hour supervision in a person-centered, home-like environment where residents are provided with life-skills training. Since 1954, LARC has been dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in Southwest Florida.
LARC serves more than 300 individuals annually, and participants range from 14 to 80.