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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 1 month ago

Conklin Center's new offsite duplex units to help blind students become independent

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The president of the Conklin Center said it's a stepping stone to being in charge of their lives.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

At 28 years old, Daniel Sewell had never truly experienced a completely independent lifestyle. 

Though he's lived on his own since age 20, he'd always relied on family members to help him due to his visual impairment. That changed when he arrived at the Conklin Center for the Blind. Now, the former-Port Orange resident has accomplished the three things he asked the center to help him with: He's found work, has learned how to cook and is currently living completely on his own.

“That’s a new experience," Sewell said. "It’s an odd feeling.”

Sewell's latter goal of independent living was made possible by the Conklin Center's new independent living incubator duplex located on the beachside in Ormond Beach. It is a stepping stone to help their students achieve the final end-goal — being able to acquire their own housing and live a lifestyle where they are in charge.

Robert Kelly, president and CEO of the Conklin Center, said they have always been interested in helping people who are blind, and people who have additional disabilities, take control of their lives and start living in a community the way they want to. The Conklin Center teaches its students a range of functional life-skills, like navigating town via public transport, cooking, cleaning, getting a job and budgeting. In a lot of cases, Kelly said these are things grown-ups with disabilities haven't gotten the chance to learn.

Daniel Sewell washes a plate in the kitchen of the Conklin Center's new independent living incubator duplex. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

He said that over the years they have found that people who get a chance to apply what they learn before graduating from the center are the ones who are more likely to be able to lead independent lives afterward.

“We think that a big part of being able to move to the step where you are in charge of yourself is to have some of these progressive experiences, where you start out in our apartment in the center and you move into a community-based apartment," Kelly said.

Those are the steps Sewell took to get where he is now. He moved into an onsite apartment at the Conklin Center in April of this year, and three months later he was transferred to the center's independent living duplex, which was acquired, renovated and furnished thanks to grants and donations. 

The duplex is an upgrade from the rental units the Conklin Center used to maintain for this purpose, said Kelly, as rising rents and a short supply of accessible housing were always troubling factors. Because they own the building, the center was able to make the unit entirely accessible for any future students that may reside there after Sewell moves on. 

The unit is also a model of the factors they hope their students will take into consideration when searching for their own place, such as proximity to public transportation. 

For Sewell, that proximity is an absolute necessity, as he relies on bus service to get to and from work. Plus, he said he also likes that buses run late into the night there, because like most young adults, he appreciates his social life.

If all goes according to plan, Sewell will be in his own housing come January. 

“That’s what their hope is," Sewell said. "So, I was like: ‘Oh. Okay!’”

Kelly said this new housing model is part of helping their students in their pursuit of happiness. There's a time where we all want to be taken care of, he said. But, there's also a natural progression of wanting independence. 

“People with disabilities aren’t any different than anybody else," Kelly said. "We want to have a life. We want to be in charge.”

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