Like many parents, John Poston recently found himself seeing two of three children off to college, of seeing them take first steps into adulthood. His third child, Michael, has also entered adulthood. But Michael’s steps into adulthood are challenged by Down syndrome.
It’s a challenge Poston has worried about since his son was born 23 years ago, the question in his mind: Will Michael be prepared to take on adult challenges like living on his own and working?
“When it really hit me was when he was getting to the end of high school,” he said. Michael, 23, was 18 then. “He was going to graduate. Life after high school for this population (those with intellectual or developmental disabilities or IDD) is not good.”
When those with IDD — a spectrum of disabilities that includes Down syndrome and autism — graduate from high school, they often lose a major social support system, where they were around peers and learning social skills, he said.
And while siblings are heading off to college and otherwise moving away from home — as Michael’s brother and sister did — as many as 90 percent of those with IDD will remain at home, Poston said. Moreover, it’s likely they’ll live at home for the rest of their lives, or in apartments, where social interaction is generally limited to parents and family and maintaining and learning basic life skills such as cooking or doing laundry get neglected. Michael, for instance, spent much of his time watching videos.
Additionally, because so much gets neglected, especially in the social realm, they might very well lose opportunities to get jobs, Poston said. Not knowing how to maintain eye contact during a job interview, for instance, might prove a deciding factor in getting a position.
This was, of course, not the sort of life Poston wanted Michael, or anyone with intellectual disabilities, to lead, so in 2012 he began to lay the foundations for a resort-style residential complex where Michael and his peers could live fulfilling lives and interact with the greater community around them.
Poston isn’t new to helping people with special needs. He helped found the Rise schools of Dallas and Houston. These schools, based on a Rise model in Alabama, promote education and intervention for special needs students at the pre-school level so they can succeed throughout their educational journey.
For his work with special needs children, Poston was recently presented the Governor’s Lone Star Achievement
Six years after working up contracts and finding land, Poston’s vision for developing a residential community is nearing completion with Daymark Living, a 200-bedroom community at 818 Cantrell St. He expects a late-October move-in for the first residents, including Michael.
“It’s the first one ever built in North Texas,” he said of the community. “This will be the third one in Texas to serve this population.”
He chose Waxahachie after a long search in part because of the land itself but largely because of the people and the help the city has given to get the project on its feet.
The spacious property features duplex and fourplex cottages surrounding a clubhouse and dining hall and an education building. All the buildings are styled similarly to homes you might see along a Florida beachfront with bright blue and white siding. Each cottage is tastefully decorated and has a fully furnished living room, along with amenities like cable and internet.
“We want to provide them with an environment like we have,” Poston said.
To do so, the for-profit community includes amenities such as a pool, a theater, game room, an outdoor court for tennis or basketball or other activities, a gym and other recreational areas.
But, the community also has an education center where classes such as food service and computer skills will be taught to further develop skills the residents will need to get jobs and otherwise improve their quality of life, said Mark Richards, Daymark Living executive director.
“We’re really a semi-independent living environment,” he said.
All residents, generally 18 or older, must be capable of taking care of themselves in most capacities such as being able to shower or feed themselves, he said, but the 24/7 staff will be available to help as needed, especially when it comes to coaching them in life skills such as cooking or laundry or preparing a budget. Support will be provided in one-on-one and group sessions.
“This is where they live,” he said. “They can come and go. This is like coming back to their apartment; however, we provide the support that they need.”
“Our goal is to make them as independent as they possibly can be,” Poston added.
Parents and family, of course, will be able to stay in touch through in-home communication technology and the property and its residents will be fully secured, he said.
Nurses will also be available to meet basic health needs such as managing medications, he said.
While the community is set up as a for-profit venture, there will be scholarships and other opportunities available to help residents afford to live there, Poston said.
Among the opportunities will be an onsite 65-acre tulip picking garden, Poston said. Inspired by a similar tulip farm in Pilot Point, Poston plans to have a million tulips in the garden and use it as a resource to provide jobs to residents needing them.