Rockford trio answers the call

Partners plan 23-acre, faith-based community for individuals with special needs.
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The former chapel property has one home in use with plans to construct others in the future. Courtesy Homes Giving Hope

Three partners felt the call to purchase a 23-acre former chapel property outside downtown Rockford and develop it into a Christ-centered, independent-living community for special needs individuals.

The development has one home in use and plans to construct others on the property in the future. The home is focused on providing independent living for young adults with special needs who require some assistance with daily tasks.

Rockford-area residents Brian and Sara Boven said they felt called to purchase the property in 2019. At the time, the property included a large home, a former chapel and plenty of green space.

Sara Boven had been an educator for 12 years. Near the end of her education career, she began transitioning toward helping move people with special needs into employment or higher education. She found work with the ACE Project, which specifically focuses on helping a “missing middle” of high-functioning individuals who no longer have access to special needs services.

“They may be getting diplomas from high school and are successful, but once they transition from school programming into work and independent living, really all of their services kind of disappear,” Sara Boven said.

Her husband, Brian Boven, who was selling real estate for seven years prior, actually had the property that would become Homes Giving Hope as one of his active listings. At the time, he had no intention of purchasing it, but when a potential deal on the property fell through, he felt it was God calling him to buy it.

“God kind of told me, ‘this was for a reason, and I want you to buy this,’” Brian Boven said. “My wife thought I was crazy, because it’s 23 acres … a huge commitment financially.”

Brian Boven also had an intimate history with the property. He grew up splitting wood on it and learning how to work outdoors from a previous owner’s son.

“Just to think back then, if I had known 30 years later I would be buying it, it would blow my mind,” he said.

At the same time, Rockford resident and friend of the Bovens, Kay Wood, began to pray for the opportunity to develop a Christ-centered independent living community, although she was unaware of the Bovens’ purchase.

Wood, who now serves as coordinator of residential affairs for the organization, is a retired educator, who previously taught students with autism in Forest Hills. About 12 years prior, she was inspired in the same fashion Sara Boven was to fill the needs of high-functioning adults for community support.

“I started to see the huge need for housing, particularly for this population,” Wood said. “We’ve got a big need here and nobody’s meeting it.”

Wood said God then brought her to Benjamin’s Hope, another faith-based special needs community in Holland. She encountered two former middle school students of hers who were now 31 and 36 and living in the community.

“I sat in this worship service with one of them on either side of me, and as we worshipped, singing praises to Jesus, my heart was just really stirred towards what this place had become for them,” Wood said. “And I prayed to God, ‘if you can use me for something like this, I would just feel so honored.’”

The Bovens and Wood then met to map out the idea of developing the property into what is now a 501c3 nonprofit, Homes Giving Hope. Wood said she was praying for 40 acres to build the community, before the Bovens came to her with 23.

“I told God that was perfect! Twenty-three is good,” Wood said.

Recently, the trio, along with professional staff and a board of directors, opened the first home on the property, a five-bedroom house entirely for women with varied needs. The organization has a goal of developing four more homes — the next one being a men’s house — a retreat and worship center and boardwalks throughout the property.

Homes Giving Hope is not a care facility or group home, as the organization does not provide medical management or personal care services. All residents have the skills to live on their own but require minimal support that they bring with them. Wood said one of the organization’s core values is to respect and honor unique designs and gifts and embrace the dignity of risk.

“Their care can look different ways. We have one individual that they do bring in Network180 services,” Wood said. “Then we have another family … a cousin comes in and supports … helps her go grocery shopping and plan her menus and clean her room, those sorts of things.”

“The most common demographic is autism,” Sara Boven said. “There’s definitely a high level of function, but some barriers. If you were a parent, you’d be concerned having them transition out to independent living.”

All homes will have a maximum occupancy of five people of the same sex, along with a resident assistant who lives in the home and coordinates evening meals and activities while also cultivating a family atmosphere among residents.

Individuals pay monthly rent as well as a monthly service fee for all the additional living support and amenities. Each resident must qualify based on the organization’s eligibility requirements.

“It’s really cool, because they, before they were introduced to this concept, may have thought, ‘I’m going to be living with my parents forever,’” Brian Boven said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel as far as freedom or independent living, because the option isn’t there for a facility that meets their needs. You don’t put these people into a retirement home or a care facility. Some of them may end up there, but it’s really not the right fit.”

Each resident will schedule their own activities, transportation, jobs or supportive needs, while also gathering as a home to plan and eat meals and engage in social and spiritual activities.

The resident assistant will assist each resident as necessary with planning. Group events are planned each month by the organization’s board of directors. Each home will have a security system with keypad entries that only residents and guests have access to.

More information is available at homesgivinghope.org

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