Person-centered communities eyed as needed option

Live-work, person-centered communities that would provide housing, employment and other positive life experiences for people with disabilities are being championed by two Twin Cities men. Shamus O’Meara and Chris Gibbs have launched a new project design providing residential, employment and other experiences benefitting people with
developmental disabilities within local communities.

O’Meara is a partner with the law firm of O’Meara Leer Wagner & Kohl and CEO of O & D Group. He is also the former chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission state advisory committee.

Gibbs is a principal with DLR Group, an international design group. He creates design solutions that holistically transform and elevate outcomes and life experiences throughout the country.

They are hoping to find development partners in communities in states including Minnesota, Indiana California and Arizona. Various construction and operational options are on the table, as they continue talks with local and national developers.

“There are few integrated housing and employment options available for people with developmental disabilities,” said O’Meara. “We work with local partners and community leaders to help create life opportunities that support the personal choices of people with developmental disabilities, providing convenient access to housing, employment, recreation and community engagement based on their personal dreams and aspirations.”

The two are combining many years of design and construction expertise to promote an innovative approach to living, working and recreating together within local communities. Their project design features quality residences with meaningful employment opportunities through supported business connections and person-centered educational programs that provide life skills and experience to facilitate independent living. The design includes health, wellness and recreation components along with other amenities, and a flexible scale depending on identified needs and resources.

Current plans involve a $100 million project with 400 residences combined with local employment, recreation, health, wellness and education services.

“Working and living together within the community is vital to everyone. DLR Group is proud to work with Shamus to help lead an important design effort that recognizes and values citizens with developmental disabilities and help create integrated opportunities to improve their life experiences within their local communities,” said Gibbs.

O’Meara is the parent of a young adult with autism. The idea for the new venture came during discussions with friends and family in his St. Paul back yard. His family home isn’t far from the former Ford Motor Company plant site in the Highland Park neighborhood, which is being redeveloped. That pending redevelopment has sparked many discussions about the site’s future uses. It also led to thinking beyond their neighborhood.

The O’Meara family is also thinking about the future. “As the parent of a child with a disability, you often think about your family situation and you wonder about the long-term future for your loved one,” he said. That led to thinking about future integrated housing and lifestyle options, where education, employment, health and wellness, and recreation opportunities could be part of everyday living.

Families everywhere deal with the challenges as their children with disabilities age into adulthood and want to be more independent. “Numerous families I know are dealing with this issue,” O’Meara said.

O’Meara and Gibbs are moving forward with their ideas, saying their concept is easily replicated and could be used in many communities. “It could be pretty dynamic,” said Gibbs.

They’ve discussed their concept with many people, including families with a disabled family member and advisory groups. They continue to have those discussions. Gibbs likes the idea because it also would break down societal silos and allow people with disabilities to be more fully integrated into their home communities. Such communities could include elders and people who aren’t disabled.

“We’ve researched ideas locally and around the world,” Gibbs said. “This could have quite a positive impact.”

One focus of the development would be to not reinvent the wheel, and instead look at working with existing community partners such as recreation centers, fitness clubs, employers and health and wellness businesses. O’Meara said the intent is to build partnerships with other entities to that residents of the proposed developments could have full life experiences.

“The partnership piece is obviously incredibly important,” said Gibbs. Gibbs and O’Meara hope to launch a website soon.