Lawmakers look to fund training hotel for people with developmental disabilities

By Darian Eswine
TheStatehouseFile.com

Radio report

The House budget allots five million dollars for The Arc of Indiana’s new training hotel project, which will offer new career opportunities to those with developmental disabilities.

TheStatehouseFile.com’s Darian Eswine reports.

INDIANAPOLIS – A group that advocates for people with developmental disabilities is raising money to build a training hotel in Muncie – and it might be getting support from state lawmakers to do it.

The Arc of Indiana project is meant to provide career instruction and experience to those who might otherwise suffer to thrive in an already tough job market.

“We have about a 72 percent unemployment rate for people with developmental disabilities and the hospitality industry is the one area that is really booming in the economy,” Dodson said. “It also seems to be the one area that people with intellectual disabilities seem to be really good and really able to learn the skills and be productive and successful in.”

The Arc has sold the idea to Republicans who control the Indiana House. They included $5 million in their version of the two-year budget plan to help fund the project.

“We have a couple of grants that we have already identified that with the state’s investment of five million dollars, we will be able to match that through two grants,” Dodson said.

She said the project which will be located in Muncie in part because of the city’s previous relationship with The Arc.

“We started talking and having discussions on this in early November of 2011,” Mayor Dennis Tyler said. “We have a great working relationship with The Arc of Indiana and their clients because of some of our initiatives.”

Dodson also said Muncie was the best pick because of the community partners the city is attached to.

“With Ball State University, with Ivy Tech, the Horizon Center — they have a great mayor that has always been involved with people with disabilities and the issues that we care so much about,” Dodson said.

She said business and community leaders have also been helpful.

The idea originated from Arc volunteer Jeff Huffman, who has been working with the group since 2003. Huffman has a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome. The boy was just 2 years old at the time he began volunteering.

“I just thought instead of just talking about training, why don’t we just do something where people can actually learn the skills and jobs in different facets and then go back to their community and work in those fields?” Huffman said.

Huffman said the program could “eventually lower the unemployment rate of people with disabilities not only in Indiana, but people around the country if this program catches on.”

Tyler said this project could also potentially boost the Muncie economy with the 200-400 clients expected to come through the project per year.

“They’re going to need a place to live, eat, recreate; I can very easily see loved ones and family members being here with them as they go through the pilot project,” Tyler said. “All of that will spur economic growth.”

Tyler said there is another project in the works as well, following the same training idea. A bathhouse may be built at Prairie Creek Reservoir with 24-hour accessibility, a concessions stand, and a meeting room.

“There’s an area there at the beach where those with development disabilities can take swimming lessons and be employed and get some training they need through Arc of Indiana to work at bath houses throughout the state of Indiana too,” Tyler said.

He said the training programs will help individuals become independent and employable, plus it would “keep them off of Medicaid rolls and off of voucher lists so for the state of Indiana, it’s a great win-win.” Tyler said it would improve the quality of life for both those with disabilities and those in Muncie.

Dodson said that’s one of the key goals of the program.

“We want to get people to work so that they have a higher quality of life, their health increases and improves, and then of course they have less dependence on public assistance,” Dodson said.

She said throughout the year there could possibly be training internships taking place at the institute.

“We’re thinking of classes of 20, where those with development disabilities would come in, spend two to three weeks at the institute, learn those skills, and then be able to go back to their home communities with the certification they have received at the institute,” Dodson said.

The individuals will actually be working through The Arc Development Group which is a limited liability corporation created by The Arc of Indiana to conduct the business venture. She said the group was created more specifically to look for job opportunities for those with disabilities.

The Arc is currently conducting a feasibility study that she anticipates receiving next week.

“Our architect is already at work coming up with hotel renderings. We have already chosen a piece of land in Muncie that the city of Muncie as donated to us,” Dodson said. “We’re just kind of waiting for that study, waiting for the state budget to be finalized which won’t be until the end of April and then we’re identifying all of our private donors and all of the foundations because we want this hotel to be debt-free by the time it opens.”

Darian Eswine is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. 

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