Although its presence in the city of Solon is small right now, with just one group home on Solon Road, Welcome House is poised to play a significant role in a planned development for individuals with special needs.

The Westlake-based organization, which provides residential and community support services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across Cuyahoga County, has more than 47 years of experience and 47 homes throughout the county.

The organization would staff and provide property management services to Solon Community Living, pending ballot approval during the March 17 primary election. Solon residents are being asked to approve a new zoning concept that would pave the way for housing for individuals with special needs for about 4 acres at the southwest corner of Aurora Road and Portz Parkway.

“We are a lifeline to people (with disabilities) who want to live and have success in the community,” Tony Thomas, executive director of Welcome House, explained. “I don’t think 98 percent of people we support could survive in the community without an agency like Welcome House.”

The agency serves over 200 individuals with disabilities with a staff of just over 400. It has its own property management company and through a subsidiary also operates a 15-unit apartment building in Lakewood.

Welcome House staff works rotating shifts to help individuals with such tasks as making nightly meals or getting ready for work in the morning.

“The level of assistance varies depending on the person,” Mr. Thomas said.

In the Solon group home, Welcome House staff does a lot more cooking than at other locations. The Solon home, which is owned by North Coast Community Homes, has four men with significant developmental disabilities, Mr. Thomas said. One is almost permanently in a wheelchair. Welcome House has been providing services there for about five years.

“The group there requires 24-hour assistance from two to three staff members,” Mr. Thomas said.

Welcome House is funded by federal, state and Cuyahoga County Board of Disabilities dollars.

“We get a blending of funds from those three sources, but mostly from the federal government through the federal Medicaid program,” he said.

Mr. Thomas said he was approached by Solon residents Ara and Leslie Bagdasarian, whose two adult children have special needs. The Bagdasarians are spearheading the $3 million Solon Community Living project.

“I wish more families would take this approach,” Mr. Thomas said, “to really come up with a plan of how they will serve their sons and daughters with developmental disabilities in the future, and then approach an organization like ours to say, ‘What can I do? How can you help me put this together?’”

Mr. Thomas said it is uncertain how many families at this point will be utilizing the housing. The plan proposed includes 10-12 high quality, two bedroom units with a minimum of one trained staff onsite 24 hours a day seven days a week. The project is planned in the area of the Solon Community Center, the Solon Library and Community Park, among other amenities, allowing the residents easy access to them.

Once the project is up and the houses start getting built, Mr. Thomas said Welcome House will have two primary roles. First, they will be a service provider for the people living in the home as well as providing some of the back office support in the areas of billing, accounting and human resources.

“We have one of the best provider networks in the state,” Mr. Thomas said, with Welcome House being the second largest provider in the county. There are roughly 200 group homes in Cuyahoga County.

As an agency, Mr. Thomas said they are very concerned about the number of people on waiting lists for services. What is so special about Solon Community Living, he continued, is that it is not just the Bagdasarians trying to figure out solutions for their own family, but also helping other families.

“That’s amazing,” Mr. Thomas said. “They are trying to help other families with their struggle.

“They could have gone out and developed a home for their kids, but they really wanted to make an impact and help others,” Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Bagdasarian said that he and his wife’s overall goal is to provide safe, secure, high-quality housing and a community accessible lifestyle for individuals with disabilities as well as peace of mind for their families.

“Welcome House has a long history and excellent experience at providing the support we need for both the individuals and the property management,” he said.

Mr. Bagdasarian added that the property management portion for the project has to be sustainable for the future. “That is one aspect, but more importantly is the caregiving and the service aspect in terms of their history of providing residential services.

“I think they are skilled at that.”

For the last decade, Sue Reid has covered the government, business climate and residents of Solon. A Times reporter for 22 years, Ms. Reid has earned commendations from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Cleveland Press Association.

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