Young adults with physical challenges get their own spot
“I love the laid-back nature of this place,” says Couch, 35. “If you’ve had a busy day, you can relax outside by the fire and enjoy some quiet time. There’s also plenty to do – Karaoke in the evenings and so many opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.”
Johns Creek founder and director Rick Thompson said Champions Place is one of a kind; no other place exists exclusively for young adults with physical challenges to live independently of their parents. Her son Matt was born with a form of cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and an assistive device to speak.
Thompson and his wife, Nancy, wondered what would happen to Matt when they were no longer around to care for him. Parents of other physically disabled children expressed similar concerns.
Thompson turned those frustrations into action. In 2014, he led a group to form the nonprofit Champions Foundation, and they got to work. They enlisted Georgia Tech to design handicap-friendly spaces that accommodate wheelchairs and brought together donations and partnerships from some of Atlanta’s giants, like Coca-Cola and Home Depot, as well as three universities, Google and others.
As a result, Champions Place is not just a home, but a testing ground for products that empower anyone living with a disability – from Tommy Hilfiger donated adaptive clothing to Google’s voice and recognition technologies .
Paul Via, a volunteer who handles all the technology, said smart devices like doors, locks and automated thermostats are being tested at Champions Place and then installed in homes for others who want to be more self-sufficient.
“We have density here,” Thompson said, “so we see problems and we see solutions. We work with Google, so maybe we can find a solution for others to benefit. »
Thompson constantly answers calls about Champions Place, and people from all over the country come to watch and see how they can replicate it where they live. Thompson tries to document everything they’ve learned for others to follow, but gives everyone the same advice: “build community first.”
“We can’t give 100 people a place to live,” Thompson said, “but we can give them a social hub, community and friendships. We can automate their homes.
Champions Place has its roots in the Titans community, a social and recreational group of physically disabled young adults and teenagers coming out of high school. Friendships developed over a decade or more of wheelchair scrimmage at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek, followed by social gatherings.
Champions Place now serves as a hub for Titans get-togethers, such as barbecues and celebrations. It’s a tight-knit group, and the 14 residents befriended the Titans long before they moved in together.
Residents Josh Cusick and Adam Laarhoven say they mostly enjoy socializing with their friends. Matthew Dooley, grandson of former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, said he cherishes the independent life at Champions Place.
“I like to live as independently as possible away from my parents,” said Dooley, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “They’ve taken care of me all my life and haven’t been able to travel, but now that I live here they can do all the trips. And now they can be my parents and not my caregivers.
Resident Coordinator Lisa Brasher has known some of these residents for two decades, first coaching them as youngsters in a YMCA wheelchair sports league. She keeps the “family” going, solving problems as they arise. Everyone involved in Champions Place is learning as they go.
“It’s great because I got to watch them grow up, and now I can hang out with them as adults,” Brasher said.
For more information: www.championscommunityfoundation.org