Twelve years ago, Lou Giambalvo was thinking about the future, especially where his daughter, Gianna, who has Down syndrome, might live when she got older.
Giambalvo didn’t assume Gianna’s younger sister would take care of her.
“They’re only a little over a year apart in age, but Gianna’s very high-functioning,” said Giambalvo, 52. “So her mother and I started thinking about where she would live and what kind of options Gianna had in this area. There were barely any.”
In 2005, Giambalvo organized a golf tournament to raise money for the cause. It became an annual event every October at The Preserve at Jordan Lake, and the tournaments have raised nearly $500,000.
In 2012, Giambalvo launched HopeSpring Village, a nonprofit with a mission to build group housing for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. HopeSpring Village opened its first two homes in Durham the following year in partnership with Duke University’s Divinity School and Reality Ministries.
Here, Giambalvo talks about the partnership, next month’s golf tournament and what’s next.
Q: Your homes are called Friendship Houses. How does the model work?
A: A grad student from Duke lives in each of the homes – a boy in the boys’ house and a girl in the girls’ house. They’re like the RA in college where you’ve got someone overseeing. The special needs residents either have to hold a part-time job or go to school.
Q: How are the houses set up?
A: There are eight bedrooms in each house for a total of 16 residents. They’re side by side and a couple of blocks away from the Durham Bulls stadium. The developer either knocked down or significantly redid all the houses, and they were all sold to either families who had a family member with special needs or to people who wanted to live in a community with people with special needs.
Q: Have there been any challenges?
A: It’s gone very well, to be honest. Every bedroom doesn’t have its own bathroom. That’s something we’d like to change in the architecture of future homes. We’ve had challenges just like any other homeowner would have.
On the funny side, we’ve had issues with the washer and dryer. Come to find out, the residents who lived there were just pressing too many buttons. So we worked on some education to teach them how to do things.
Q: How has the community responded?
A: The community is unbelievable. You go there, and you’ll see the residents outside hanging out. A neighbor will host a dinner, and the residents from all around will come over. It’s a combination of people with special needs and people just like you and me. You go there and you’ll get a thousand hugs.
Q: What gave you the idea to raise money through a golf tournament?
A: If I’m not working, I’m either playing golf, buying stuff for golf, watching golf or reading something on golf. I figured I’d marry my passion, golf, with my other passion, which is setting up living options for adults with special needs.
Q: HopeSpring’s annual fundraiser golf tourney is Oct 7. Are you full yet?
A: Not yet, but we’ve sold out every single year since the first year. (To register as a golfer or sponsor, go to http://bit.ly/2x9apBB.)
Q: What’s the next step for HopeSpring Village?
A: This year put us in a solid position to purchase property for the next house, and our goal is to break ground in 2018. We also expect to have some exciting news to announce at this year’s tournament.
Q: Our objective when we started this was to put homes up next to each of the universities in North Carolina. We’re starting in the Triangle. We have four big colleges right here. We’ve been talking to all of them about forming partnerships and (utilizing) ... degrees like special education; that’s one we think would be a good match.
Q: Your daughter is now 22; is she ready to move out?
A: Some days we ask her and she is because her sister moved out and went away to college. The day the house is ready, we’ll just have to see if she’s ready and if I’m ready and if her mom is ready. She’s doing really well, working four days a week at a retirement community called SearStone. She works in the kitchen and just loves being there. It’s a perfect fit for her.
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Born: Dec. 29, 1964, in Long Island, N.Y.
Raised: South Florida
Current residence: Morrisville
Career: More than three decades with IBM
For more information: hopespringvillage.com