This month's Home of the Month highlights a successful residential living program for adults with autism to help enhance their independence and provide a strong sense of community!
Julie and Michael Tracy are the parents of two adult sons, Joseph and John. While Joseph developed typically, John was diagnosed with autism at age two. Like many children on the spectrum, John’s struggles grew during adolescence. After a number of hospitalizations, he was enrolled at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School in Hyde Park in his junior year of high school. The “O” School is a residential, therapeutic school serving children with significant challenges associated with both autism and mental illness, and is affiliated with the University of Chicago.
Unpredictably, John’s mental health declined, and his autism diagnosis complicated treatment. He was admitted to Rush University Medical Center during the summer of 2011, where he stayed for five weeks. It was almost impossible to stabilize John, and it was during these uncertain months that the impetus for the Tracys’ work emerged. Observing the need for more specific psychiatric and transitional care directed towards young adults with autism and comorbid mental health problems, the Tracys’ envisioned residential, vocational, and social solutions for young adults in Chicago, working closely with the newly established Autism Assessment Research Treatment Services Center (AARTS) at Rush.
In just under two short years, the Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation / Urban Autism Solutions has made this vision a reality.
At the center of JMTF’s Urban Autism Solutions is a residential living program with the goal of promoting socialization, psychiatric stability and a strong sense of community while supporting adults in advancing their independence as well as vocational and educational achievements. Our first residence, Project 1212, will open its doors on June 6th, 2014. It’s located in the University Village neighborhood on the near West Side of Chicago within a mile of Rush University Medical Center, walking distance to the Loop and close to public transportation that will take our residents to the many amenities a city like Chicago can offer.
Project 1212 is designed to have a secure, nurturing environment. While it will have a family-like staff, it isn't intended to function as a "container." On the contrary, it will be a vibrant community-within-a-community. The specific autism-friendly design includes a combination of public and private spaces. The ground floor has community space that offers social networking opportunities and will be a conduit to the surrounding neighborhood. Above and below the community space, two private residential floors can accommodate four individuals with 24/7 staff coverage. Each resident will have an independent bedroom with two private bath options. The porches and side yard offer access to outdoor recreational space. We’re creating in-house space for a dog washing and walking business as well.
Project 1212 is a time-flexible housing model. Residents could conceivably make a permanent home in our community or opt for shorter term transitional housing for up to 12 months at a time. In 2015, we will look for opportunities for residents and other young adults to move to nearby apartments or row houses in order to remain a part of our vibrant community.
Our second initiative is an expanded 13,000-square-feet vocational garden in the Illinois Medical District, called Growing Solutions Farm. We’re capitalizing on the strong urban agriculture movement in Chicago to promote a healthy lifestyle as well as to create opportunities for job training and employment. Beginning in May, teachers, volunteers, crew members and staff will engage in daily work together with garden interns to develop the soft skills and resumes which will lead to future success in the workplace. All the while, we will be presenting instructions to support individual gardeners using meaningful modifications with visual, printed and video models. Paid employment for gardeners will be offered, to include stations within the farm as well as sales/ farm stand operations. Farm interns will include residents of Project 1212, Chicago Public High school students from Al Raby High School, Easter Seals Therapeutic School for Autism Research and private applicants.
In order to be an integral part of the neighborhood, we have worked with the Outreach Director from the AARTS program to introduce our mission to area businesses and neighbors. Along the way, we created Network 1212, Taylor Street’s newest social club. Founded in 2014, we’ve sponsored a series of meet-up groups in local restaurants that have attracted a range of up to 20 young adults from the community both with and without social and communication challenges. Future planned activities include opportunities for outings as well as educational meetings, including Explore Chicago, monthly cooking classes, fitness classes in the West Loop and in-house movie nights.
For more information about programs or residency in Project 1212, please visit our website at jmtf.org, or contact Julie@jmtf.org. We hope you’ll join our growing community for young adults in Chicago!