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Disability Options Network breaks ground for house

New Castle News - 10/9/2018

Oct. 04--Fate might have led Kathy Yeraci to her work at Disability Options Network after she lost her job at Jameson Hospital 12 years ago.

At least 51 percent of the people that the agency employs have disabilities, and Yeraci had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988.

Now fate apparently is at work again for her, and through the goodwill of the agency, Yeraci soon will have a home of her own.

Disability Options Network, in concert with the county and other public and private agencies and businesses, has been renovating a few dilapidated and blighted homes on the city's Lower East Side to afford people with disabilities a chance to own a home and live independently.

On Monday, members of those agencies assembled in front of an empty lot at 206 Mulberry St. to break ground for its first home to be built from the ground up with accessibility to someone with special needs. That someone is Yeraci, who will become the owner of that home. She will be purchasing it through a mortgage that is affordable to her income.

Yeraci, 58, was raised in Hillsville, graduated from Mohawk High School, and moved to New Castle in her adult life. She worked as a secretary at Jameson Hospital for 22 1/2 years. And with the help of medicine and doctors since her diagnosis, "I've made it this far. It's amazing."

Now she will embark on being a homeowner of a house equipped to suit her needs. She was allowed to pick from three house plans.

"I'm very excited that this is all happening for me," she said. "I think now it was the best thing when Jameson laid me off and DON hired me."

DON administrators estimate the house will take about five months to complete. The agency's own team of carpenters are doing the work and the funding is being provided through grants and endowments.

Members of all of the involved agencies and businesses gathered in front of the lot this morning for the formal groundbreaking ceremony.

"It's a milestone," commented Court Hower, DON administrator of community resources. "This is the first new home for the Court Street project."

"All of theses houses here are meeting a housing void," he said, emphasizing that all of the houses DON is renovating or building will have two or three bedrooms and attached garages.

DON and its associate agency, DON Enterprises Inc., in addition to building a new house for Yeraci are in the process of remodeling three other houses at 720 and 722 Court St. and at 204 Mulberry St., properties that were in the county's land bank or were to be razed by the city or county for its blight removal program.

The house at 204 Mulberry St. will be retained by Don and used by people who are transitioning out of nursing homes into independent living, explained Anita McKeever, a DON spokeswoman. That house will have one bedroom and one bath and will be retrofitted to accommodate people with disabilities who are opting to become independent from nursing homes.

The house at 720 Court St. will be given away to someone, with the recipient to be announced at a special ceremony on Oct. 16. At that time, Chris Lloyd, CEO of Disability Options Network, will receive the employer of the year award for Lawrence County from the state Department of Labor and Industry's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

"I'm giving it away," Lloyd said of the two-story, white frame house. "There will be no mortgage, and that person is going to be a lot better off."

The house had been in the Lawrence County repository, then its Land Bank, and the county land bank committee gave it to DON to rehabilitate it.

Lloyd added that he formed the company called DON Management LLC, "and I'm dumping everything I've got into this house."

"We had discussions on making (housing) improvements in Lawrence County," Hower commented at the groundbreaking. "Little did we know it would become an improvement and revitalization of the Lower East Side."

DON spearheaded a community cleanup in that area a year ago and it evolved into a community garden for the Lower East Side. The residents planted, nurtured and harvested the garden on Richelieu Avenue, he said.

This year's cleanup involved 80 volunteers who filled five dumpsters, Hower noted.

The houses undergoing renovation were blighted two years ago, he said. DON also is working with local government agencies to get money to have the streets repaired in that neighborhood, he said.

DON started in Lawrence County in 2002 as a center for independent living, Lloyd told the crowd, and DON Services was created to provide direct services to people in their homes.

"We've been growing and growing and growing," he said.

Lloyd noted that 20 percent of the population will experience a disability during their lifetime, whether it is temporary or permanent.

"We're going to build these houses, grant or no grant," he said. "I'm not stopping."

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(c)2018 New Castle News (New Castle, Pa.)

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