Marshfield organization hopes to build senior-friendly, autism-friendly community

MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - Kathy Meyer and her family know the difficulties that come with raising a child with autism first-hand; her 25-year-old son, Matt, has a severe form of the condition. The special attention and patience necessary to care for an autistic person can be hard to find, leaving Kathy and her husband, Harry, asking an important question, “Who will take care of our child once we are no longer able?”

Kathy Meyer embraces her son Matt in their home. (WSAW photo taken 1/8/20)

“Right now, that’s all of our worries. What is going to happen?” said Meyer. “It’s not realistic for a family member to do what we have been doing. It’s not sustainable.”

Wanting to educate the public about the issue and hoping to find a solution, Kathy and Harry set out for Massachusetts where they were able to visit a community that incorporates those with autism with senior citizens, or the “Opportunity generation” as Meyer refers to them.

“What many of them would benefit tremendously from is people who understand autism,” said Meyer. “The aging generation. People who have the time and desire to learn about these people and know them personally. We would like to create a neighborhood around these people where everyone can get to know each other, and the people who are interested can learn to communicate with these special individuals.”

Meyer founded E.N.C., the Everyone Needs a Community organization, to help bring the concept to the Marshfield area.

“The ideal, for people with disabilities right now, is to live out in the community,” said Meyer. “It’s a community, it’s not a nursing home. We are not going to be running the lives of the people there. Our organization would be working hand in hand with the management of the property and with social services to help create relationships through volunteer activities within the community. We need to combat loneliness.”

The community would help not only those with autism, but the senior citizens that choose to live there.

“The seniors, for example, one of the first things they need as they age, is help with house cleaning,” said Meyer. “There are many people on the autism spectrum who love to clean. We think that there could be some real opportunities of bringing these two basic groups together.”

The plan is to have the first community in the Marshfield area. Should it be successful, Meyer expects to see other areas follow suit.

“We expect if we can do a good job of it, this model will be replicated,” said Meyer. “There is a need for new models for housing for people with autism. There are people who are trying different things right now. No one model will fit all, and the answers are going to be a combination of funding of private foundations, donor funds and government funds to make these things a reality.”

She understands it will be a long process, but is ready to face the challenge with community support.

“Phase one is going to be securing a developer and funding for building,” said Meyer. “The site we have in mind would be terrific. Right now, financing will be one of the major hurdles.”

If you would like more information about the Everyone Needs a Community organization or would like to donate to the cause, visit their website here. A fundraiser will be held on February 1, at the Eagle’s Club in Marshfield, featuring the Pointless Brothers.