A Place of Their Own

November 17, 2011
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By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez

EVERYONE NEEDS A place of his (or her) own. Now a group of young men with autism have a place—an historic farmhouse in Middletown in the community where they’ve grown up.
Through a unique partnership of Impact OASIS, Middletown Township, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation and the NY/NJ Baykeeper, a 26-acre property on Sleepy Hollow Road, known as the Coe estate, is now Middletown parkland, and a portion of the property is for Impact OASIS.
Impact OASIS (Ongoing Autistic Success in Society) is a non-profit organization that works to promote inclusion and acceptance of autistic individuals in the community. Members, as well as friends and supporters, have worked tirelessly to find a place for their loved ones with autism as they reach adulthood.
“Everyone’s biggest worry when you have child with autism is that you wonder who will take care of them when you die,” says Mai Cleary, president of Impact OASIS. “Although they need to learn independent living skills, because of their difficulties in communicating, their parents are afraid to send their kids far from home. This is a beautiful setting where they’ll be safe, happy and close to family and friends.”
Recently, members and volunteers teamed up to rake leaves, cut branches and help clean up the property. After much restoration to the house and clean up of the grounds, the home, circa-1861, will be ready for occupancy. Applications for residency will be available January 1; requirements are to be a resident of Middletown or a neighboring town.
Residents will live in the home from September to May (similar to a college schedule), supervised by a volunteer who will also live in the house. Days will be structured with scheduled activities and learning opportunities. “It’s not going to be too academic,” says Cleary. “School was tough for some of them.”
Instead it will be a creative and exciting learning environment, featuring music lessons, scheduled activities and job coaches to help them develop skills of all kinds–from technology to gardening and cooking skills.
“It’s important for these kids to learn how to be independent,” says Cleary. They’ll learn how to budget and how to do the laundry, and work on communication skills including computers and texting.
The spacious grounds will also provide ideal gardens to grow organic vegetables, similar to the community garden the Impact OASIS has at the Stevenson Farm in Lincroft. Residents will help build a nature trail on the 26-acred property, which will be open to the public.
The sprawling farmhouse also features a Lafayette Tearoom, which was supposedly decorated for Marquis de Lafayette’s visit in the 1860s. The French nobleman, who joined forced with George Washington during the American Revolution, visited the house for tea years later. The homeowner decorated the room in painstaking Lafayette detail for this visit.
In the future, Impact OASIS members hope to invite the public for tea, where they will serve tea and scones baked in the woodburning stove, which they plan to install in the summer kitchen.
Impact OASIS establishes farm centers that provide meaningful work, peaceful and healthy residences and community interaction. “For these young adults it’s important for them to stay near their family and peers because they don’t always form those ties easily,” says Cleary. “This is a perfect place for them.”
Impact OASIS is hosting its Fourth Annual Green Ball Fundraiser on November 18 at the Shadowbrook in Shrewsbury. They will have another cleanup day on December 3 and an Open House on December 11. For more information, visit their website at www.impactoasis.com

The former Coe estate in Middletown will now be home to a group of young men with autism under a program known as Project Oasis.

(L to R) Oasis Board Members Liz O'Mara, Marta Petrocelli, Mai Cleary and John Cleary Jr. helped to clean up the 26-acre property formerly known as the Coe estate, which will house young adults with autism.

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