When representatives of the Cisco-based Heavenly Father’s Foundation asked the Aldersgate Enrichment Center for a “wish list” of its needs last spring, Marshall Thornhill wasn’t sure how much the foundation was offering.
Thornhill is director of development for the faith-based nonprofit organization, which is located near Early and is dedicated to helping special-needs adults.
Thornhill went to work on creating the wish list, starting with the largest: construction of a 12-unit apartment complex to provide independent living for 11 residents who are currently living in assisted living facilities on the Aldersgate property. The complex — a longtime dream of the Aldergate staff — would contain a 12th unit for a staff member.
Other wish-list items included a truck, new mowers and new weed eaters for the road crew, new roads, fencing and a new sound system for the center’s three venues.
“We got a call back about a month later and they said that they were very excited, they were very blown away by everything that Aldersgate had to offer, and they said that they were going to grant our wish list,” Thornhill said. “And we said ‘great! Which one?’ And they said ‘all of it.’”
The Heavenly Father’s Foundation paid for all of the smaller items and gave a $366,000 grant toward the largest — construction of the independent living apartments, which will be known as The Ranch at Aldersgate, Thornhill said.
The $366,000 was about half of what was first estimated to be the cost of the apartments. The cost has grown since the original estimate to $1 million, Thornhill said.
Aldersgate has launched a campaign called “Home on the Range” and hopes to raise the remainder of the needed funds from the community.
Construction on the apartments started in March and is expected to be completed in September, Thornhill said. Each of the 575-square-foot apartments will be fully furnished.
Darren St Ama, owner of Savage Saint Design and Fabrication, designed the apartments — which will be contained in two adjacent metal buildings, each with an entrance to the outside and each with a laundry room — and was selected as the general contractor.
The Aldersgate Enrichment Center is located on 150 acres off U.S. Highway 183, 3 miles southwest of Early. The center’s website explains its mission:
“Through the United Methodist Men’s dream and their continued support, Aldersgate Enrichment Center has become a unique vocational community that offers a safe work environment where individual challenges are met and overcome. This Christian-based facility is designed to help those individuals with limited abilities maintain their dignity and reach their full intellectual, physical, social, emotional and spiritual potentials.”
Two assisted living residences are home to 21 associates. There are five additional buildings, an administration, dining and activity building and four workshops. Aldersgate serves about 72 associates, who are expected to work in an area of their choosing based on their qualifications. They are paid for their labor. A portion of the money they earrn may be applied toward the tuition balance.
Some of the assisted living residents are capable of living independently, Thornhill said.
“We have tried to place them in community living independently,” Thornhill said. “It’s not that they don’t have the ability to live independently.”
But outside factors, predators, thieves and those who just “flat take advantage of vulnerabilities” made stymied those efforts, Thornhill said.
“We had one instance where we put a gentleman into an apartment here in the community, and within 48 hours all his furniture was stolen, his cell phone had been hacked, he had other random people living in his apartment just through the weekend and he had no money,” Thornhill said. “We put him back on the campus.
“We’ve seen these people have the capability to live on their own. We designed this (apartment) building. We’ve already basically identified all 11 people and the staff member who will be living there. They’ll be entirely separate. They’ll cook for themselves, clean for themselves. The staff member will just do welfare checks, be there in case of emergencies, things like that.”
The Heavenly Father’s Foundation has become a strong supporter of Aldersgate, Thornhill said. “They’ve given us some pretty decent sized gifts to hep finish up some projects,” he said. “We got a phone call last spring and they said that they were looking at investing a little bit more in Aldersgate, and they wanted us to make a wish list of things we wished we could have.”
The residents who will be moving into the new apartments are excited, Thornhill said. “They’re excited because you get to a point where you get stagnant and it can lead to frustration and depression, and it looks like it’s a dead end,” he said. “You get so far into assisted living and you feel like you want to move forward, and you can’t.
“So this is actually going to give them that opportunity to make that transitional step, where they can live on their own but till live within the confines of our campus, and be in the safeguards of our staff members. And hopefully, eventually, that will help teach them a little bit more, and maybe they will end up being able to move into the community.”
The assisted living facilities have a waiting list, Thornill said. When the 11 residents move from assisted living to the new apartments, that will open up space for new residents to move into the assisted living homes and “just give people more landing spots, essentially,” he said.
Residents of the assisted living homes pay rent, and those who move into the new apartments will pay rent, Thornhill said. “Our tuition varies by portion, what they’re qualified on,” he said. “We’re still working the kinks out on exactly what we’ll charge, but it will be affordable housing. It’s very modern, it’s very open, it’s something that they deserve.”
He said the apartments will offer “decent living at an affordable price.”
Aldersgate has donations levels for the apartment project set up on the website www.theranchataldersgate.com . “You can go there and see all the giving levels and how you can contribute,” Thornhill said. “We’re basing this on a three-year timeline. It will be a three-year pledge.
“We’re going to do a pretty big marketing push, with (donation) packets and mailouts and things like that that are coming toward the middle of May.”
For more information about donating to the project, Marshall said he can be reached at 646-5608.
Thornhill said he and St Ama are friends, and St Ama was on the campus working on a different project when Thornhill told his friend about the proposed apartment project.
“I just kind of mentioned this – ‘hey, they’re looking for somebody, I think you can do this,’” Thornhill recalled.
“Our first design was just a metal building with a bunch of apartments inside of it. When you walk in, there would be a hallway with apartments. And he took it to a whole new level. He said they deserve something special and unique, just as unique as they are. He came up with the design.”
At the construction site one recent afternoon, St Ama talked with Thornhill as workers went about their construction tasks. St Ama said he had custom-built a team of subcontractors who he knew were right for the job.
Thornhill indicated two large open areas near the construction project. The hope is to eventually build two more sets of apartments for independent living. It is hoped that the rent paid by residents in the apartments that open in September will pay for construction of the second set of apartments, with rent from the second set paying for the third set, Thornhill said.