In the heat of August, a group of believers in the power of grass roots community development gathered in Monroe, one of the nation's poorest cities, to mark the opening of the cornerstone of an innovative "continuum of care" senior village development.
U.S. Senator John Breaux (third from left) is joined by Booker T. Community Outreach CEO Esther Gallow (to his right), Monroe Mayor James Mayo (far left) and HUD Regional Director Cynthia Leon (far right) and a host of other dignitaries as he cuts the ribbon on the new village.
With a broad range of governmental, private sector, faith-based foundation and community partners, Booker T. Community Outreach cut the ribbon on a HUD Section 202 elderly supportive housing development.
The $1.6 million, 28-unit, duplex-style project is leveraged by Monroe HOME funds and funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta. And within a month, the second phase, a 26-unit assisted living facility, will open, funded in part by HUD CDBG funding, financing from AmSouth Bank and more Monroe HOME funds.
The master plan includes an adult day health care component to the assisted living facility with space designated for an attached Alzheimer's unit. A state pilot program using Medicaid subsidies will support low-income elderly enrolled in the adult day health care component. Upon completion, the Sisters of Charity-Christus St. Joseph have agreed to operate the assisted living/adult day care and Alzheimer's unit. A childcare center, complete with playground equipment, is also in the works, to be operated in conjunction with a foster grandparent program.
All of this did not occur overnight. In late 1998, BTCO founder and CEO Esther Gallow began discussions with the Sisters of Charity about the possibility of developing an assisted living facility for the low-income elderly residents of the Booker T. Washington neighborhood.
The village now consists of 28 duplex units. Within a month, the second phase, a 26-unit assisted living facility, will open.
Those discussions generated the initial concept for the village, a multi-unit, multi-phased residential development that features a "continuum of care" concept. Gallow took her vision to Washington, where she began discussions with the two U.S. Senators from Louisiana about an assisted living and adult day care facility development for low-income elderly.
Initially, few people believed it could be done. Numerous seemingly insurmountable obstacles made the project appear impossible.
But Gallow and her board refused to be dissuaded. She testified before Congress about the barriers and inequity of forcing low-income elderly into nursing homes, when assisted living was a more cost effective and appropriate alternative.
Slowly but surely the barriers began to fall. The Sisters of Charity helped purchase a 7.2-acre site for the village, meetings with the Louisiana officials resulted in approved pilot program allowing Medicaid waivers for adult day care, and funding was secured.
And now, what was once an improbable dream is today an astonishing reality.