Merica House was started as a result of the dream of a young man, Harry Merica. That dream was an independent living environment where severely physically disabled adults could live rather than be “warehoused” in an institution or become an increasing burden to caregiver, sponsors, often aging parents. Other people caught the vision. One of these people was a generous benefactor. There was also a group of like-minded people, the Alliance for the Physically Disabled, who had been working on the idea but lacked the startup funding. With the help of Harry’s advocates, the different parties connected in late 1994 and plans to make the dream a reality were put in place in early 1995. One way of describing Merica House as home is it functions like a family of families where the sponsor is part of that family. And the residents look out for each other in addition to the aides, staff and volunteers who participate at Merica House.
Merica House was opened November 1, 1995 after the APD acquired and modified two apartments in Skyline Plaza, Falls Church to be accessible for physically disabled people. The home can accommodate up to seven physically disabled adults. We maintain a waiting list for applicants in the event a vacancy occurs, which is not often but does happen and the vacancy is quickly filled.
Volunteers participate by serving on the Board of Directors and/or spending time with the residents or undertaking other tasks. Those tasks may range from performing maintenance at the apartment to administrative tasks which support the Alliance’s sponsoring role of Merica House.
The Alliance for the Physically Disabled has Merica House as its first project. Its primary goal is to provide affordable and accessible housing for physically disabled adults. A complementing interest of the APD is to locate the home in the community with the idea of encouraging the integration of the residents into the community. Because of the unique combination of services provided at Merica House for its residents, it serves as a model in Virginia of community based living with associated services support.
The Alliance for the Physically Disabled, Inc was organized and incorporated in June of 1989 to serve the needs of Virginians who have severe physical disabilities and require personal assistance with tasks of daily living. For several years prior to its founding, several teachers in the Fairfax County High School Program for Students with Physical Disabilities were becoming increasing concerned about the futures of their students after graduation. Most of these bright and vibrant young adults were living at home, not working, and living very isolated lives with virtually no peer contact. There was great concern about the general lack of choice in these young people’s lives, but particularly with regard to their living/housing arrangements. A similar lack of choice existed in the lives of the parents, who, facing their own aging concerns, were finding it increasingly difficult to provide the physical care required by their adult children. An assessment of the current situation revealed that the only other housing option for these young adults was to spend the remainder of their lives in a nursing home. Housing which would include on-going personal assistance with tasks like dressing, eating, wheelchair transfers, etc. was virtually non-existent in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time Merica House as a combined housing/Medicaid service delivery (personal assistance) solution model was started 1 November 1995. Actually, this model still is unique in Virginia.
Since its inception, a goal of the ALLIANCE has been that of creating an awareness of the needs of this population. This is being done through networking in the community in general and participation in various community affairs or organizations to educate them about issues faced by physically disabled adults in finding housing and integrating into the community. And making the case for the need for help in terms of policies and funding supporting increased availability of community based housing and service delivery to persons with disabilities. Part of that case is showing that other states are already providing such housing and services having found it to be more cost effective than institutionalization. Legislation such as the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Supreme Court Olmstead decision have added momentum to the federal level of making things happen…and it is now up to the states to do their part which we will watch closely and encourage where we see opportunity.
The ALLIANCE for the PHYSICALLY DISABLED, INC. is a nonprofit 501 (C)(3) organization. It is funded through residents’ rent and private donations. We continue to rely on the support and assistance of all of our fellow citizens in expanding this worthwhile endeavor.