Organizations seek funds to build group home

By Rick Rouan

Two groups are trying to increase local resources for autistic adults.

BOARDMAN — A 3.2-acre patch of land on Glenwood Avenue could be the future site of a group home for autistic adults if two area nonprofit organizations can raise the money.

The Tri-county Autism Society purchased the land in 2005 for about $22,000, but it needs to raise $300,000 to $400,000 to build the proposed group home, which would house four autistic adults, said Helen Aiello, fund- raising coordinator.

The group already has banked about $100,000 for the project, but now it is turning to private-sector philanthropic grants to raise the balance, she said.

“We want this to be a domino effect,” Aiello said, adding that the organization hopes to open more group homes in the area in the future.

Autism is a developmental disability that impairs a person’s communication and interaction with others. The disability, which can be diagnosed in toddlers, “affects individuals differently and to varying degrees,” according to the Autism Society of America.

Sketches and blueprints for the group home already are complete. The outside of the home would look like any other house, but the inside would include four individual living spaces and common eating and kitchen areas, said Aiello’s husband, Frank Aiello, who is on the board of directors for the organization.

Frank Aiello said the home would be 2,800- to 3,000-square-feet and would be staffed 24 hours a day by a company that will be determined later. The staff would be paid with money from rent paid by the home’s autistic residents.

People with autism are eligible for Social Security and Medicaid, Helen Aiello said, and some can find work in the area as well.

“We want them to be independent,” she said.

Another nonprofit group, Hermitage, Pa.-based St. Michael’s Harbour Inc., is trying to begin operation in Ohio as well.

St. Michael’s Harbour assesses the skills of an autistic adult to determine what type of work he or she can do. The organization then works with companies in the area to find jobs for the autistic adult.

Although the organization was founded and supported by a $150,000 Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism Services grant, that money has begun to dry up, said Catherine Cercone, a spokeswoman for the group.

Cercone also is an advocate in the group, helping autistic adults craft r sum s and prepare to enter the work force.

Potential donors can help the organization through the Web site,, or by calling (724) 982-0414.

Helen Aiello said that independent exposure to the real world is important for an autistic person because he or she will not always have parents as caretakers.

“There is also a great impact in their behavior and capabilities when an outsider is involved,” she said. She added that a group home specifically designed for people with autism would help expose them to other people while still catering to their needs.

The Tri-County Autism Society tried to obtain federal housing and urban development grants for the group home, but the stringent requirements became prohibitive for the organization, Frank Aiello said.

To get the federal grants, the group home likely would have had to cater to adults with any developmental disabilities, but the organization wanted to specify that the home would house autistic adults.

Because the organization originally tried to comply with HUD guidelines, the property it plans to build on is centrally located near bus lines and grocery stores, Frank Aiello said.

At 6:45 p.m Oct. 31, the Tri-County Autism Society will host a Halloween Dinner Dance at the ITAM Centre, 115 S. Meridian Road. The dance is scheduled to raise money for the group’s general fund and will include a buffet dinner, beer, wine, music and a costume contest. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling (330) 720-2066.

“I think now, with autism being so high on the public knowledge, that people will be more supportive,” Helen Aiello said.

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