Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce ambassadors, business leaders, local and state government officials, and Goodwill Industry employees gathered at the Grady Cultural Center on Friday to celebrate a building initiative in Grady County to improve the lives of its disabled citizens. The ground breaking ceremony for the 1.5 million dollar apartment complex was to take place at the construction site but moved to the cultural center due to the steady rain which fell throughout the day.
Goodwill Industries Big Bend President/CEO Fred G. Shelfer Jr. presented site plans for a new apartment complex that touts unique architectural features allowing a wheelchair bound person to enjoy a higher level of freedom and independence to perform daily tasks in his/her home. Each apartment features wide doorways, roll-in shower in bathrooms, side-by-side refrigerators/freezers, counters, cabinets, major appliances and light switches that are all within reach.
Plans for the 15-unit complex also include a community room for recreational activities. The community room will be available for tenant meetings, holiday dinners and parties with plans to add a computer, television and DVD player for renters’ use. The room can also be reserved for private parties and special events.
Georgia State Rep. Gene Maddox, Cairo Mayor Richard VanLandingham, Debbie Cannon, a regional representative for U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Wallace Sholar, a field representative for Congressman Sanford Bishop, and Goodwill Industries Housing Committee Chairman Calvin Milton were in attendance and spoke on behalf of the project’s merit and value to the community.
According to Shelfer, the project was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) giving Goodwill Industries the go-ahead to borrow the money needed to finance the project. Big Bend Goodwill Industries has also completed similar apartment complexes in Thomasville and Bainbridge. “We will build these apartments and lease them to people with disabilities who have low incomes, and they will pay a portion of the rent based on their income,” Shelfer explained.
The Grady County apartment complex for the disabled, located adjacent to the Downtown Plaza Shopping Center, is Shelfer’s tenth project in north Florida and South Georgia over the past 20 years. “We’re thankful this morning that we are gathered here to talk about spending government dollars to help some people who need help,” said Shelfer. “So we are blessed to be a part of that.”
Shelfer said he believed the organization needed to do more than just provide jobs and training. “And in our Goodwill in North Florida and South Georgia 20 years ago we could provide training . . . particularly for those with disabilities – but if they didn’t have a safe place to live, they weren’t going to be able to realize the maturity and independence they wanted to achieve. So we started building apartments for people with disabilities.”
Thus far, Goodwill Industries Big Bend has built 300 safe and accessible apartment buildings for people with disabilities who reside in the north Florida and South Georgia region.
Goodwill Industry officials expect the apartments to be ready for occupancy in July or August of 2009. An announcement regarding the availability of apartments will appear in The Cairo Messenger, and social service and health care agencies will be notified when application forms become available.
Applicants must be 18 years-of-age and physically disabled with a very low income to qualify for the lease program. People who use wheelchairs receive preference for these totally accessible units.
Prospective applicants will be directed to contact Donna Warlick at the Residential Services office in Tallahassee when applications become available.