Kerry Hagner stood near the front door to her new home in Meadowmont, welcoming dozens of neighbors and strangers who wanted to see what a community had built.
The Arc of Orange County – now part of the Arc of the Triangle – broke ground on the six-unit apartment building in September. On Friday, local and elected leaders joined Arc staff members and clients to officially open the doors to residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Most of the time, those individuals live with their parents or in group homes. Arc – and the new $1 million-plus building – has three goals, said John Nash, executive director of Arc of North Carolina.
“People are making choices, people are having opportunities to do things that they never would have been able to do before, and there is a means and support here to realize their dreams,” he said. “Thirty years ago, 50 years ago ... things like this were not even possible.”
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Hagner, 30, was born with Down syndrome and lived with her parents until early July, when she got the key to her two-bedroom Arc of the Triangle apartment at 150 W. Barbee Chapel Road. Her roommate Symoni Patel, 27, will move in next month.
Her parents helped her move, Hagner said. Her mother Karen wasn’t able to attend Friday’s opening event for medical reasons, but her father Ron took photos to share later.
“They have been gracious throughout this transition, and I love them very much,” Kerry Hagner said. “I hope they visit, but not too often.”
The 2005 graduate of Chapel Hill High School now can walk to Cafe Carolina and Bakery in Meadowmont, where she’s worked for two years, and ride her bike across N.C. 54 to volunteer at the University Child Care Center. She also serves as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics North Carolina, traveling the country to recruit athletes, volunteers and sponsors.
The apartments offer local people with disabilities an opportunity that many others can’t enjoy, Ron Hagner said.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “The time was right for her to be independent.”
Friday’s event also was a first for the Arc of the Triangle, which merged the Arcs of Orange, Durham and Wake counties on July 1. All three agencies, which have served Triangle clients for 50 or 60 years, will be based in Chapel Hill but have local offices, said executive director Robin Baker.
The Arc would like to build other apartments, Baker said, because it’s important for clients to feel like they’re part of a community and for people in the community to know people with disabilities as just regular folks. There’s already a waiting list, officials said.
Residents must have a documented disability and not earn more than $23,000 a year. They pay 30 percent of their income in rent.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the crowd that his uncle, who had severe disabilities, would have benefitted from a similar program, if one had existed.
“What you see here is the work of so many people who share that commitment” to an open and engaging community, he said. “There are few projects that really make that point stronger than this one.”
The two-story apartment building has a common area and four one- and two two-bedroom units, equipped with washers and dryers. A bus stop is just feet away, and Meadowmont shops and other amenities are within walking distance.
Arc relied on local, state and federal funding to build the apartments, including the Orange County HOME program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and The Ireland Family Foundation. The Arc of North Carolina will managed the apartments.
Meadowmont developer Roger Perry donated the roughly half-acre of land and spoke at Friday’s event. Perry later said he’s considering another land donation at East West Partners’ proposed Obey Creek project site on U.S. 15-501, across from Southern Village.
Meadowmont’s Arc residents are his new neighbors, too, he said.
“We’re better people, and our lives are enhanced by them and their presence at Meadowmont,” Perry said. “I just live a couple hundred yards from here, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know my neighbors.”