Upstate Leaders and Southern Wesleyan University Partner to Create a Special Needs Living/Learning Community

On March 14, 2016, the Disabilities and Special Needs Boards of Pickens and Anderson Counties and The South Carolina Board of Disabilities and Special Needs joined leaders at the Southern Wesleyan University campus to announce plans to create a living/learning community to serve the needs of individuals with special needs and disabilities. This community will be constructed on 3.4 acres of land donated by the university and located between Wesleyan Avenue and College Street and will provide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant apartments for eleven special needs friends. 

According to the US Census Bureau, 20.9 million families in our country have at least one family member with a disability. Caregivers worry about what will happen when they are unable to be there for their special needs family members and often experience significant anxiety over how their loved ones will be financially secure. This innovative new program will provide a path by which its residents, under the mentorship of SWU students who share the community with them, will develop the skills and strategies they need to live, work, and thrive. 

According to Beverly A. Buscemi, executive director of the South Carolina Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, this unique program “will provide a place where social interaction and developing relationships will enrich the lives of both the special needs and disabled residents but also the students.” 

The project design of the $1.7 million initial phase of the community includes one four-bedroom unit, seven two-bedroom units, two one-bedroom units, staff facilities, and common space. Residents will have easy access to Clemson Area Transit buses and a one-quarter-mile walking trail. Completion of the project is set for August of 2017. 

Retired T. L. Hanna Coach Harold Jones and James “Radio” Kennedy, whose friendship was the subject of the major motion picture Radio, made a special appearance together to express their support for the living/learning community. Roughly 200 upstate residents and numerous elected officials and representatives from state agencies attended the event. 

The initiative has been christened the Jericho Project—a collaboration between Southern Wesleyan University and the Pickens and Anderson special needs boards. Officials on hand for the announcement of the Jericho Project included Elaine Thena, executive director for Pickens County Disabilities and Special Needs; District 5 Rep. Neal Collins (R-Pickens); District 6 and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson); Dr. Beverly Buscemi, director of South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs; District 3 Rep. Gary Clary (R-Pickens); Dr. Lisa McWherter, Southern Wesleyan University vice president for advancement; and Tyler Rex, executive director for Anderson County Disabilities and Special Needs. 

Representative from District 3, Gary Clary (R-Pickens) voiced his enthusiasm for this project, stating, “This really warms my heart to see this innovation, this collaboration between government and a private university to enrich lives of others, to bring these individuals with special needs on campus, for them to be able to interact with students, faculty, community members.” 

Southern Wesleyan University President Dr. Todd Voss shared his optimism for this work and stressed the importance of how this community will further the private Christian university’s mission to cultivate “servant leaders who impact the world for Christ.” 

If you are interested in learning more about this living/learning community or how to apply to be part of it, please contact Elaine Thena at (864) 644-2500.

Photos courtesy of Southern Wesleyan University.

Angela Rogers is a teacher, bibliophile, and freelance writer who is a lifelong resident of the Upstate.