Hope Community Resources Inc.’s intentional neighborhood recently got a $200,000 Wightman Family Trust grant for site preparation. The money helps move the project one step closer toward the construction phase, which may begin as early as this fall.
Six units are planned for the Sterling property, and will house a dozen residents who may have physical and intellectual disabilities, or a combination of both. Roy Scheller, Hope’s executive director, said he believes the future tenants fall into a similar category.
“There is a group of people who really want to belong and be a part of something a little bit bigger than themselves and who want to share a life and an address,” Scheller said.
The central Kenai Peninsula location will be Hope’s third intentional community in Alaska. Two all-male communities already exist in Dillingham and Willow. Each member mutually agrees to live a subsistence or agrarian lifestyle, catching wild game for themselves and the greater Dillingham community, and growing their own food and raising livestock in Willow.
The Sterling neighborhood, previously also referred to as a community, will be planned to reflect the rural, farming culture similarly lived by many Kenai Peninsula residents, Scheller said. There are plans to develop walking trails, raise animals, keep beehives, grow produce and sell any surplus in Kenai, Soldotna or Sterling, he said.
The 20-acre parcel of land was purchased through the Salamatof Native Association for $50,000, with Hope funds. The Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation is providing very low-interest mortgages for the homes, Scheller said
Each member must qualify for Home and Community-Based waivers, and will pay roughly $600 each month in rent, Scheller said.
Hope’s intentional communities address the population of people with disabilities who do not have a stable living situation, Scheller said. Moving means loss of an essential safety net that takes time to cultivate, he said.
When someone lives in one place for an extended period of time, they learn their daily routes, meet other area residents and know where to go to for support, Scheller said. For those who have disabilities, rebuilding that network is much more of a challenge, and security may be compromised in the process, he said.
Intentional communities offer stability in the long-term, and provide an even deeper-rooted support system that can nullify the concerns of caregivers, Scheller said. Parents often wonder, and ask Scheller, how to make sure their child is cared for once they are no longer able to, he said.
Each unit will have an onsite staff member to assist residents, said Kathy Fitzergald, mother of future community tenant Cara Fitzgerald, 33.
“My daughter is extremely autistic, and change is extremely difficult for her,” she said.
Living in an intentional community, Cara will have a close network of people who share like interests such as hiking and being outdoors, Kathy Fitzgerald said. Her neighbors will also be friends, and know her daily routines as well as the staff member caring for her and her roommate, she said.
“They are not roommates, but people who are really sharing their lives together,” she said.
Kathy Fitzgerald, a former member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, proposed the plan for an intentional community to Hope after she and her daughter moved to the peninsula three years ago. Soon after, Hope committed to help out if there was a strong enough interest. Now, there is a core group of six families ensuring the project moves forward, she said.
The families meet semi-regularly to discuss values and rules that may be set for residents and visitors once things are up and running, Kathy Fitzgerald said. One of the most important components is to keep the community open, she said.
Friends and family will always be allowed to visit, and residents with jobs outside the community will remain employed, Kathy Fitzgerald said. Eventually, she hopes the members will set up a small shop to sell to their central Kenai Peninsula neighbors.
Fitzgerald, who helped research and plan for what intentional communities in Alaska might look like with the Governor’s council, said she believes the system may be the future of best practices to provide housing and care for people with disabilities.
“The intentional community is not to isolate,” she said. “It is to really be a part of, and still a be a part of a greater community.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.