A new building near Beaufort to improve life for people with disabilities is a positive step.
It shows Beaufort County to be progressive in how it treats those who could easily be ignored.
The Beaufort County Disabilities and Special Needs Department moved from cramped, inadequate quarters into a new building with the space and design to meet its goal: "to support people with autism, mental retardation and related disabilities, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and similar disabilities and promote their pursuit of life goals and their presence, participation and inclusion in the community."
In total, it serves about 650 people in a variety of programs.
The new 25,000-square-foot building will primarily house the day program now serving 89 adults (it funds another 31 clients served by Programs for Exceptional People on Hilton Head Island). Previously, the Beaufort-area clients were served in three different locations, none adequate for size or even safety. The new building also gives the administrative staff the space it needs.
"It is absolutely beautiful," said department director Mitzi Wagner. "I wish everyone could have seen the faces of our consumers when they walked into the new building. They are very happy."
The department got a grant to offer a new program in the building called Breakers. It will offer programs for 30 individuals from children to adults three days per week so that their caregivers can get a break.
Most of the money for the $6 million building came from Beaufort County government -- meaning all the citizens and property owners of the county. It also got $800,000 from the state and $500,000 in federal stimulus funds.
The ABLE Foundation of Beaufort, a nonprofit organization that supports the department and raises money for a summer camp for special-needs children, is raising $25,000 for a 26,000-square-foot courtyard garden at the new building. It has been designed by volunteers. They plan to begin construction Feb. 12 on a garden with native plants, benches, a fountain, bird feeders and paved walkways. ABLE is about $3,000 short of its goal.
Another positive aspect of the move is that it clears up space that the Beaufort County Coroner's Office hopes to use. The coroner's current space is inadequate for a number of reasons and we hope this important county function will also get what it needs.
Wagner said the new building is a great reflection on Beaufort County.
"We do have vulnerable people who deserve to be cared for in an appropriate manner," she said. "The county's contribution shows what a wonderful place this is to live."