Counseling service plans new program for youth

MIDDLEBURY — The Counseling Service of Addison County is seeking permission from Middlebury town officials to transform one of its former group homes into a base to deliver programs for youths dealing with autism and/or emotional and behavioral challenges.
The Counseling Service acquired the 1,900-square-foot home at 907 Lower Foote St. in 1994. It was one of around a half-dozen group homes CSAC owned and managed for clients requiring more intensive supervision and care for their disabilities. The Lower Foote Street home accommodated three clients at a time, according to CSAC Executive Director Robert Thorn.
But CSAC’s need for group homes lessened during ensuing years as Vermont mental health services continued its transition from centralized care to residential placements within the community. Also known as “adult foster care,” the newer model called for some clients to be placed with host families with support from the Counseling Service.
“It’s worked out really well,” Thorn said. “We have found out that the developmental home setting is more home-like … and is clearly a  preference for many people we serve — and is less expensive.”
It worked out well enough to allow CSAC to pare back its number of group homes to two, on Elm Street and Seminary Street. As a result, the organization has been left with some assets to repurpose, including the home on Lower Foote Street. The Counseling Service first rented it out to a family that had run out of other housing options. That family moved out around a year ago, according to Thorn.
Counseling Service officials then looked at new uses for the home and decided it would be best used to ease a space crunch for CSAC’s Youth and Family Services division. Specifically, the organization is seeking town permission to change the use of 109 Lower Foote St. to a place for:
•  Teaching youths independent living skills. The full kitchen, laundry, and living space would allow for hands-on learning for the young clients during weekday business hours.
•  Assessing children on the autism spectrum. A room would be set up with specific toys to assess clients’ functioning.
•  Gardening for additional teaching opportunities.
•  Meeting space for parent or youth groups. Groups usually meet for one or two hours, two or three times a week.
•  Storage space for bicycles, snowboards and other equipment used by CSAC’s adventure-based treatment programs.
Counseling Service officials are also asking for permission to use the space for an occasional emergency overnight stay for a youth in crisis. Thorn stressed that staff would be on hand for such stays, as well as at any time when youths are on the premises.
The building would be maintained by youths, between the ages of 16 and 22, in CSAC’s Jump On Board for Success (JOBS) program. They would be in charge of yard work as well as building maintenance, thereby gaining hands-on employment skills.
The Middlebury Development Review Board will review CSAC’s application on Sept. 24. This will give neighbors the chance to weigh in on the proposal’s potential impacts. If the organization gets a green light, it will proceed with some major renovations to the building, including new flooring, appliances and paint.
“It is a versatile space,” Thorn said. “Everything is converging nicely here to give us some new options to serve kids in Addison County.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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