Building more than a home

Nonprofit aims to help adults on autism spectrum

BOARDMAN — A nondescript piece of property filled with fallen trees, weeds and brambles will be the site of a home that promises to go a long way toward fostering the growth and independence of those who will live in it.

“I’m excited that we have this land for its intended purpose,” Kevin Shope, president and director of the Boardman-based nonprofit Dylan’s House organization, said.

He was referring to about two acres in the 4000 block of Glenwood Avenue on which a four-bedroom home will be constructed for four individuals on the autism spectrum, and with incremental support for caregivers. The building will be named after Shope’s son, Dylan, 22, who was diagnosed with autism and lives in a three-bedroom home in Cornersburg his parents bought.

Kevin Shope, his wife, Amy Shope, and several other autism advocates and experts gathered at the location Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the property transfer from the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley to Dylan’s House, which was launched in fall 2022.

The foundation is “devoted to empowering and enriching the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder from adolescence through adulthood by providing quality homes,” according to its mission statement.

In March 2018, Dylan Shope, who was 17, moved from his parents’ residence into a group home that the Purple Cat agency ran. In 2020, Dylan Shope moved into his current home, where he receives care and support 24 hours per day, seven days per week, Amy Shope said.

Dylan Shope has some verbal skills, but needs assistance with cooking and other activities of daily living, and he has difficulty with safety issues. Dylan Shope also enjoys being part of the Purple Cat’s day program, where his duties include checking on the animals and performing certain maintenance tasks at the agency’s farm in Coitsville, his mother noted.

“He has made some great friends and has become more social,” said Amy Shope, a 27-year financial adviser who owns and is a managing partner with Lehner Shope Wealth Group in Canfield and is a past Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley board member.

The home off Glenwood Avenue will fit into a plan of additional such homes the couple “hope to continue buying and building across the Mahoning Valley,” said Kevin Shope, senior vice president with Citizens Wealth Management Inc.

Also assisting with the effort is the Shopes’ daughter, Anderson, 19, a Bowling Green State University freshman studying special education.

Dawn Incorporated, a Warren-based construction company, is slated to build the home. In addition, the business provided several blueprints of the project.

Also at Tuesday’s gathering was Robin Suzelis, the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley’s executive director, who noted that a mere 7 percent of American adults on the autism spectrum have access to support services necessary for them to live outside of their family home.

In addition, an estimated 87 percent of adults with autism live with their parents, yet only 22 percent of them wish to do so, Suzelis said.

“Housing plays an important role in ensuring the well-being of people on the autism spectrum and helping them integrate into their community,” she added. “Some autistic individuals can live independently with minimal or no supports, while others require high levels of support.”

The need to fill such a gap is essential largely because accessing support housing for those on the spectrum can be highly difficult, and because of a limited supply, Suzelis continued.

Kevin Shope wasn’t shy about expressing his appreciation for the property transfer and the support he and his wife have received for the project.

“We are incredibly grateful for this community collaboration. We were shopping for property to begin our efforts, so this donation couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.

Kevin Shope was unable to say when construction would begin on the home, though the couple is beginning efforts to raise money.

The first such fundraiser, “Sunday Funday,” is set for 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Steel Valley Brew Works in the Southern Park Mall. For more information about Dylan’s House, go to www.dylanshouse.org.


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