Dream House Comes Closer to Reality

Glennwood Housing Foundation leaders Shauna Bogert, Stacey Enmeier and Randy Larson expect to start renovations shortly on Laguna Beach’s first adult home for the developmentally disabled. Photo by Andrea Adelson

What started as a castle in the air for parents of developmentally disabled young adults in Laguna Beach may soon become a dream house come true, thanks to the efforts of the Glennwood Housing Foundation.

Three years in development, the foundation recently hired executive director Shauna Bogert and assistant director Stacie Enmeier to spearhead the $1.1 million renovation of a vacant assisted living complex into a licensed and functioning adult residential facility by year’s end.

Next week, the foundation will submit remodeling plans to city officials for final approval and start partial demolition shortly thereafter. More than 75 people are already on a waiting list.

Randy Larson envisioned the facility as a dream, but also an imperative. A financial planner from Laguna Niguel, Larson established the foundation in 2009 to provide safe, affordable, local group housing for young adults aged 18 to 45 with a varying range of developmental disabilities. Such a place would give them a chance to live in a nurturing community among peers with the potential to increase their level of independence with help from staff and volunteers.

The dream is personal. Larson turned to advocacy for the developmentally disabled when his son, who has Down Syndrome, couldn’t find an AYSO soccer team to meet his needs. He began organizing sports activities for special needs kids, eventually founding the Glennwood Foundation’s Lighthouse Group, which is now run by his daughter.

Having overcome initial hurdles involving purchasing the $6.5 million property, Larson and his newly assembled team tackle the next: opening the 42-room, 17,000 square-foot facility with ADA compliant dining, living and socializing spaces for its special needs residents.

“The more energy we put into it, the faster it’s going to happen,” said Bogert, of San Clemente, who has 23 years of experience in the field of developmental disabilities. The project immediately piqued her interest when learning of it through her mother, a Laguna resident.

Last year, she served as a foundation advisor before being hired. Bogert in turn recruited Enmeier, a colleague skilled at navigating the various government agencies that provide an array of services to the developmentally disabled.

“It was so clear that they instantly captured the vision,” said Larson of his new hires, who like him recognize the necessity of dovetailing construction, licensing, staffing and resident selection.

Parents of children with developmental disabilities have special worries about the future as most program support for special needs ends at age 22. Most of these young adults now live with their parents, who, like them, are aging.

Larson, whose son Trevor is now 28, and other parents identified the need for a novel sort of independent living arrangement that still provided their children with services but didn’t segregate them by disability. Large, affordable housing facilities generally lack support services. And group homes that do provide services typically house six to eight residents, often with similar disabilities.

Glennwood will be an exception in the state for its size and services, as well as its reliance on private funding for operational needs. “Unlike other programs of this size in the area that are strictly independent living, we will provide supports such as self-medication management, independent living classes in laundry, money management, cooking skills, etc. and exercise and recreational activities.” Others have already expressed interest in replicating Glennwood’s model.

Glennwood House exceeds the 15-resident cap for federal aid to facilities offering 24-hour care and thus is ineligible for any government housing subsidies, said Larry Landauer, executive director of the Regional Center of Orange County, the conduit for state services to the developmentally disabled.

To assist with Glennwood’s $3.4 million capital campaign to cover debt and renovation costs, the foundation set up a fund at the Laguna Beach Community Foundation last August. Supporters continue to hold fundraisers, such as an “estate sale” rained out last weekend and rescheduled for this Saturday, and an auction of works by Festival of Arts’ exhibitors planned for April 28.

A big boost came last week when angel donor, Laguna Beach resident Jacob Voogd, pledged $500,000 to name Glennwood’s dining room in memory of his wife, Joanne. Voogd’s granddaughter, Lauren Voogd, 26, hopes to become a Glennwood resident. Voogd has also pledged an additional $1.4 million donation.

The foundation expects to submit its community care licensing application by month’s end, but approval could take months more, Bogert said.

“Laguna is at the forefront of a new model for how we take care of adults with developmental disabilities,” said Bogert. Besides support from donors, groups such as Transition Laguna continue to offer Glennwood help such as putting in wheelchair accessible kitchen gardens, but residents will also venture into the community for work and recreation. The community’s effusive support ranges from offering art workshops to nursing to yoga classes.

Administrators will start screening for residents soon to determine both practical and financial eligibility. Residents will be charged $2,500 monthly. An endowment is envisioned to offer financial assistance.

“It’s just been a long, fun ride and we’re not quite there yet, but we’re really close,” said Larson.

Potential donors should contact Laguna Beach Community Foundation, 949-715-8223 or [email protected].

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