Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin are shutting down the non-profit corporation they formed to provide housing for adults with intellectual disabilities.
But the mission of serving individuals with intellectual disabilities will continue with their $125,000 donation to the Hand In Hand Options program at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School.
“We’re proud to be able to do this,” said Jerry Tachoir, a member of Knights Council 9132 at Our Lady of the Lake Church and the first president of Sumner Special Housing Inc. Board of Directors. “We’re still doing good. Hopefully, this will be great seed money to help (the Hand In Hand Options program) grow.”
The gift is the largest ever for Pope Prep’s Hand in Hand Options program, which was established in 2004 to provide an education in a Catholic high school to students with intellectual disabilities.
“These funds provide us with a unique opportunity to take great ideas for program enhancements and expansions off the ‘wish list’ and put them on the ‘to-do’ list,” said Kim Shaver, the director of Hand In Hand Options at Pope Prep. “We are now able to entertain ideas that prior to receiving this grant were out of the realm of possibilities.
“I am most excited to think about the impact these funds will ultimately have on our current and future Pope Prep HIHO students,” she added.
Michelle Barber, Pope Prep director of advancement, praised the Knights from Councils 9132 in Hendersonville and 10010 in Gallatin for their years of support for people with intellectual disabilities through Sumner Special Housing.
“Over the past 25 years these gentlemen have labored lovingly to fundraise for the benefit of those with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “Today their generosity blesses our HIHO program with a substantially generous grant gift.”
The idea to create Sumner Special Housing began with a discussion between Tachoir and the late Carlton Russell.
“We were discussing our Tootsie Roll Drive,” Tachoir said at a ceremony on Wednesday, June 8, to present the donation to Pope Prep, referring to the Knights’ fundraiser to support people with intellectual disabilities. “Carlton and I realized most of the group homes were being built in Nashville and Memphis. We realized we needed to do something in Sumner County.”
They reached out to the Knights at Council 10010 in Gallatin to partner with their council in Hendersonville to create Sumner Special Housing in 1998 to provide housing for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Their first venture was to buy a six-bedroom house in Gallatin and renovate it for use as a group home. But a change in state regulations that limited group homes to three residents and a resident assistant forced a change in strategy, Tachoir said. “We realized we needed to start thinking differently.”
Instead of buying existing houses and converting them to use as a group home, Sumner Special Housing decided to build new homes, Tachoir said. The group brought onto the board Bob Johnson of the Gallatin council who had extensive experience building homes with Habitat for Humanity.
“We took their model and adapted it for our needs,” Tachoir said, with Knights and their families providing the volunteer labor to construct four group homes. “It was actually a fun time.”
To operate the group homes, Sumner Special Housing contracted with Habilitation and Training Services Inc., a non-profit agency that provides a variety of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including housing and employment assistance.
Over the years, as housing costs have continued to rise, Sumner Special Housing was unable to build more homes, Tachoir explained. And changes in state regulations designed to move people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into more independent living situations made operating group homes more difficult, he said.
“It just wasn’t working,” Tachoir said.
So the Sumner Special Housing Board of Directors decided to disband and deed their homes to Habilitation and Training Services. The board also provided funds to help pay for continued maintenance of the homes, Tachoir said.
The board still had money left over and had four criteria in deciding how to use it, Tachoir explained:
- The recipient had to serve people with intellectual disabilities.
- The board wanted the money to stay in Sumner County.
- The board was looking for a Catholic organization.
- The group had to be a non-profit.
Tachoir’s daughter was a member of the first graduating class at Pope Prep and he was aware of the Hand In Hand Options program. “Here is an opportunity to fulfill our criteria,” he said.
On hand for the check presentation was Angie Kniery of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Her three children have all graduated from Pope Prep, including her son Joe who was a student in the Hand in Hand Options program. She spoke about the impact the program had on her son and her family.
“It was amazing to watch the growth in him,” Kniery said of her son’s experience in the Hand in Hand Options program. “It was a very inclusive environment.”
While at Pope Prep, Joe was on the track and swimming teams and was elected Prom King.
“It was a safe space for him, and they pushed him,” Kniery said.
After graduating from Pope Prep in 2019, Joe enrolled in the Transition and Access Program at the University of Cincinnati, which offers a four-year college education for students with mild to moderate intellectual or developmental disabilities. He lives in an apartment with several roommates and has a job near campus, Kniery said.
“Without this program, he never would have gone to college,” Kniery said.
Hand In Hand Options not only helps the students enrolled in the program, Barber said, but the entire school community.
“Having our HIHO students involved in all aspects of the Pope Prep experience – academics, athletics, arts, service – helps to break down stereotypes by connecting HIHO students to peers who will witness their value, and may someday be a future neighbor, a colleague, or potential employer,” she said.