Local non-profit sets housing goals for a neurodiverse community in Park City
Park City— Bridge21ParkCity, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has formalized its five-year plan, which includes ambitious attainable housing goals and the development of an inclusive neurodiverse community in Park City.
Bridge21ParkCity aims to be the “bridge” between neurodiverse adults aged 21 and over by creating a housing community within Park City. While the organization is keenly focused on the needs of autistic residents and those on the spectrum, it also encompasses those with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities, also referred to as IDD.
The organization was founded in 2018 by Wes Stout, Stephanie Polukouff, and Liza Howell. In 2017 Liza attended a meeting for concerned parents hosted by the National Ability Center. Although her son was only in 6th grade, she was greatly alarmed to hear from parents of older children that there were no housing opportunities for young adults with IDD once they graduated from the PCSD. There were literally no local housing opportunities to “launch into.”
This group became the Park City Housing and Transition task force and eventually, enough concerned parents stepped up to form the non-profit Bridge21 Park City, creating a website, social media presence, and bundle of activities targeting this population.
Bridge21’s goal is to be a resource to help neurodiverse adults live their best and most independent life by creating appropriate and sustainable housing within Park City and Summit County. Its mission is to collaborate with local resources to provide affordable housing options that meet the individual’s needs while situating them within the broader community. Proximity to services such as public transportation and shopping within walking distance are critical aspects when considering housing and community involvement opportunities.
In March of this year, the organization hired Deb Hartley as Executive Director. This wise choice has already had an enormous impact on the organization. Deb has been a Park City resident for over 33 years and has an unmatched breadth of experience relative to non-profits and fundraising. As a local real estate professional, she is the co-founder of the enormously successful annual Park City Turkey Drive, which she led for 20 years before stepping down at the end of 2021. Thanks to the support of The Market Park City, the Board of Realtors® as well as the enormous generosity of the entire Park City community, in 2022 the Turkey Drive, whose mantra is “Give Hunger the Bird” provided a Thanksgiving dinner to over 3,000 families in Park City and northern Utah. Hartley also sits on the Board of Directors of KPCW, the local radio station and “heart” of the community, and is a Hospice Worker at Intermountain Hospital. Additionally, she has served on the Board of Directors for many years for the Park City Board of Realtors®. Clearly, she is very capable of leading Bridge21 in the attainment of its mission.
The significant uptick in real estate prices since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020 has been felt around the country, perhaps nowhere as significantly as Park City. Affordable or attainable housing is extremely scarce, which has caused hiring challenges for the wider tourism industry; this enormous demand makes the housing goals of the organization even more challenging. Not one to run from such a challenge, Hartley commented “I have no doubt that once they understand our mission, this community will step up to help us reach our goals. Park City is one of the most philanthropic towns in the West.” Understanding that fundraising will be hugely important given the cost of real estate, Hartley feels that between grants and guidance available from two wonderful local organizations already doing magnificent work in both the ability and affordable housing spaces (the National Ability Center, which supports the disabled community and Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, which works to create affordable housing) – both inspiration and a path to solutions will be uncovered.
Bridge21 Park City recognizes the isolation crisis individuals with neurodiverse disabilities face while approaching adulthood. While opportunities are improving within the Park City community for this population, there are not enough neurodiverse housing options that are available to this population. Bridge21 believes Park City is ready to build a more inclusive community and Bridge21 seeks to create a network of bridges connecting individuals with neurodiverse disabilities to local housing. Ultimately, Bridge21 aims to build a neurodiverse co-housing neighborhood. The vision is to build this co-housing community with enough land to cultivate a community garden, employment options, and communal areas to support specialized social opportunities. Ultimately, by 2027, the organization hopes to be able to house at least 50 individuals from the neurodiverse/IDD population. “At present, we are conducting a demand analysis as we don’t really know how large a population we might serve, particularly when we expand our boundaries throughout Summit County. Once we have that information, we might need to expand our goals even further” commented Hartley
In the absence of current housing options, Bridge21 is focused on outreach to parents to expand the community as well as offering specific events targeting youth such as this summer’s Buds and Blooms, a recurring event that will bring youth and leaders together weekly on Wednesdays in the community garden to plant and nourish their crops. In the fall, activities may center around basic cooking skills to utilize the bounty of the summer’s efforts. “Fostering independent living is so vital for these young adults and meal preparation is part of that” commented Founder and Board member Liza Howell. Other activities might include gatherings focused on crafts, games, or skills enrichment.
“Presently, our most urgent need beyond fundraising for housing options is to expand and understand the size of our population, so we ask readers to share our message wide and far within the reaches of Summit County to help us get our arms around how many individuals we ultimately will be serving,” comments Hartley.