Imagine a hotel along the Pinellas County beachfront equipped for and staffed by the disabled. The hotel would be self supporting and those with handicaps could live there independently, with a little help from Resident Assistants who act kind of like parents.
That’s the vision of Bill and Jane Williams.
Like many parents of special needs adult children, the couple wanted a plan that would secure their daughter’s future. So they formed The Banyan Odyssey, a Largo-based nonprofit organization in late 2015.
“We don’t want our kids to be sent away from home. We want them to be in our community, but to have a safe place to live and work and be as independent as possible,” explains Jane, The Banyan Odyssey’s Vice President.
Named for the banyan tree, a symbol of rest, The Banyan Odyssey already is working with 25 families with special needs individuals 16 through 29. They are providing training for those diagnosed with a variety of disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism, the genetic disorder Prader–Willi syndrome, and Intellectual Disability, a condition that results in below average academic development through age 18.
While they raise funds and look for that ideal property, a mom-and-pop hotel that can be purchased and renovated, The Banyan Group is getting its potential employees ready through events like the Camp Banyan summer program.
Employment in that group has been a problem. “The disabled community [in Florida] is at 85 percent unemployed or underemployed,” she asserts.
“Our deal is if you are physically capable of working a 30- or 40-hour work week, you should have the opportunity to,” she says.
The Williamses goal is to create a social community loosely modeled after a college dormitory, where Resident Assistants can look in on residents to make sure their laundry is done, their apartment is clean, and they are ready for work. It would be a place where their 24-year-old daughter Mary Elizabeth, who goes by M.E., can live securely and independently.
Jane says the community will be for “handicapable” adults. “Instead of focusing on disability, we focus on what the young people can do,” she explains.
The Banyan Odyssey is one of six companies that will be vying for an assortment of prizes at the Caregiver Accelerator Pitch Competition between 2 and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, at Bryan Glazer Family JCC, 522 N. Howard Ave., Tampa. Each will have six minutes to make a pitch before four judges: Chris Bennett, of Callyo; Jamie Huysman, of WellMed; Jeffrey Makowka, of the AARP; and Wilma Norton, of Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.
A People’s Choice Award will be determined by online voting.
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a Florida Caregiver Conference follows from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the same location. The conference, which focuses on the caregivers of veterans and male caregivers, includes educational presentations, information about Caregiver Accelerator companies, and innovative solutions. Speakers include Retired Major General Tony Taguba, on “Caregiving is a Public Health Crisis” and Jean Accius, PhD., of the AARP Public Policy Institute, on “Breaking the Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers.”
Walk-ins are welcome. The pitch competition is free; the conference, which costs $50, includes respite services for attendees.
Monica Stynchula, Program Director of St. Petersburg’s Caregiver Accelerator, says organizers are hoping to attract young entrepreneurs interested in tapping into $72 billion in caregiver’s market opportunities nationally.
In Florida alone, some 2.6 million provided $30 billion in unpaid care last year, she points out.
“What we’re trying to do is build resources into our communities that don’t exist today, [resources] that help caregivers when they need them,” Stynchula explains.
As the oldest baby boomers turn 70, the need will only increase in coming years, she points out. Ninety percent want to stay in their homes, so AARP wants to encourage businesses that can help them stay home safely for as long as possible.
“10,000 boomers are eligible to retire everyday,” she says. “It’s a real challenge to our economy and to our families. Right now we have over 60,000 on a waiting list for senior services in Florida.”
The Caregiver Accelerator acts as a pre-incubator for caregiver-related businesses, providing 18 hours worth of business training and the opportunity to attract the attention of the AARP, a national advocacy group for the elderly.
The other five finalists that will be presenting pitches include:
- Guillermo Abadia, of Lumitec Consulting in St. Petersburg, a software development company;
- Robin Albright, of Bradenton, author of 12 Tiny Well-being Tips for Caregivers, a workbook to help caregivers take care of themselves;
- Bonnie Brown, of A Better Life, a St. Petersburg company offering life coaching and Medicaid planning;
- Cynetta Hill, of Graceful in Home Aging of Tallahassee, and
- John Webb, of Medication Call Reminder of Tampa, an automated service operating nationwide.