Portland Tribune | Beaverton Valley Times
December 19, 2014
Written by Shannon O. Wells
You don’t hear too often about a retired couple in their 70s looking forward to moving into a brand-new, never-before-occupied home, but with help from the Edwards Center and its new “Edwards Place” living complex, Sharon and Dick Bech are doing just that.
The Beaverton couple, along with their 42-year-old daughter Kim, who has lived with a complex seizure disorder her entire life, are moving into the first new multigenerational housing structure at Edwards Place. The connected two-building complex, the first two of five similarly designed units, significantly expands the center’s capacity to house adults with disabilities, their parents and other family members.
What started as stress for the Bechs, who wanted to make sure they had resources for Kim at their fingertips — along with reassurance she would be in good hands even after they pass away — turned into what they call a “blessing” after meeting with Edwards Center Director Jessica Leitner earlier this year.
“We worried about what to do about Kim,” Dick Bech, 79, said as he and Sharon, 75, met with Edwards Center staff to sign a lease for the house. “She’s lived in a group home for 10 years. We love her so much and are so blessed to have her. The alternatives were to make her a ward of the state or a group home. We didn’t know what to do for her after we’re gone. Out of the blue came Jessica with this project.”
With the help of several good friends who helped the family with donations to secure the housing, the Bechs found themselves with the right situation at just the right time.
“All of a sudden we heard of a project where we’d be able to live together,” said Dick. “We got on board and said we were very interested. Now it’s coming true. The relief is Kim can live here for her whole life. That’s one thing we will not have to worry about.”
The expansive, attractive houses at 20250 S.W. Kinnaman Road, which are designed with the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of living and family situations, is part of an extensive renovation and revitalization of the Edwards Center’s Aloha campus.
The $5.2 million project, which started in 2012, included a complete overhaul of the community center at the back of the 2.5-acre property, and replacing an aging, inadequate group-living home with five cottages and five larger houses closer to Kinnaman Road.
The Edwards Center operates 15 residential sites both on and away from its Aloha campus.
While the new cottages are designed for up to two residents, the larger, 2,500-square-foot homes feature three to five bedrooms, unique, space- and energy-saving amenities, private outdoor spaces and flexible suites of rooms to accommodate independence and connection to caregivers.
The project grew out of a series of planning meetings with Edwards Center stakeholders, who set new goals of expanding low-cost housing options to promote “multigenerational living” in which aging parents with care needs could reside with their developmentally disabled children.
“The goal is to maximize natural supports — friends, family members, shared arrangements — in proximity to the community center,” Leitner said. “This really represents a huge transition away from (traditional group) living. That’s not always the right thing for our clients.”
The housing project, which cost $1.5 million for the two connected houses, was funded exclusively through donations with no public grants or taxpayer money involved. The board of directors was free to focus on quality facilities and long-term affordable housing.
“The people who live here are on extremely low, fixed incomes,” Leitner noted. “We have to be able to control rents and make them affordable. When you accept traditional grants for low-income housing, it just wouldn’t fit our model.”
With the two connected houses completed, the center’s board and staff will take their time to complete the three remaining planned units.
“We built what we raised,” Leitner said. “We wanted to go slow and do it right. As we raise additional funds, we’ll build the other three.”
Fulfilling a mission
Jean Edwards, a University of Oregon graduate with a passion for special education, founded the Edwards Center in 1972. Her goal for the nonprofit center was to provide a “continuum of care,” including housing, job, medical care and recreational options to those with developmental disabilities in a community setting.
While visiting the center on Friday to discuss the lease with the Hechs, Edwards reflected on the extent to which the recent additions and improvements have helped the center fulfill her original vision.
“Yesterday some friends were here who were part of this from the very beginning,” she said. “It was a great joy to be able to share this, and for them to look around and say, ‘This is what we talked about back in the 1970s, to have this umbrella for services for families.’”
While adding the Hechs and another, unrelated tenant who will live upstairs from them, is a big symbolic step in the new, improved Edwards Center’s long-term mission, Edwards maintains much remains to be done.
“Certain pieces are still missing,” she noted. “We want to keep growing and adding things methodically to our services. To have the circle complete (will be) very gratifying to me.”
As the Hechs tour the new space that will soon be their and their daughter’s new home, they beam with excitement at the dwelling’s expansive space and homey ambience.
“I never realized it would be as nice as it is,” Dick said. “This is quality work. It’s beyond our dreams.”
Sharon readily agreed with her husband’s assessment.
“I’m blown away. We’re so grateful, we’re bursting,” she said. “This is better than nice. It’s a huge gift.”