RED BANK, N.J. - A single mother, with the inspiration of her autistic son, is building a new housing project in New Jersey to give autistic people an opportunity to live more independent lives while also continuing to receive the services they need.
Karen Fluharty and her son Ryan are from New Jersey, but Ryan moved to Arizona two years ago to live in a residence with other autistic individuals and be self-sufficient while receiving supportive housing.
Karen began looking for a place like this for him when he was 15 years old because once a person with autism turns 21, their school-based services end.
The search wasn’t something Karen took lightly.
"'Oh my gosh,'" Karen recalled. "'I've got to move my only son as a single mom all the way across the country.'"
That's when she created Parents with a Plan, a nonprofit organization aimed at creating more of this type of housing but closer to home.
"I wanted a place where he would work, where he could socialize, where he had access to arts and culture, where he could grocery shop," Fluharty said.
Red Bank encompasses all of that including easy access to public transportation, so she teamed up with longtime friend and real estate developer John Klein to bring it to life. THRIVE Red Bank is now in the works.
They identified a site on Shrewsbury Avenue which will be three stories and feature 32 one-bedroom apartments for autistic people. A navigator will live on-site to help guide residents. The first floor will be a gathering place.
"We have a teaching kitchen and a place where they can get together, work with each other, cook meals with each other should they like, order pizza and watch a movie," Klein said.
The project is in partnership with the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services in New Brunswick.
Dr. Christopher Manente is the founding executive director.
"The innovative model of inclusive community-based individualized supports that we have pioneered here at the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services will provide the blueprint for the programming that will be created at THRIVE Red Bank, at THRIVE properties throughout New Jersey, and the greater United States," Manente said.
The goal is to eventually build more THRIVE properties throughout the state and country and is a model of public and private partnership.
The center offers four programs and participants like Jasmine Bullock, who works at the restaurant Rutgers Club, and Jordan Hines, who works at a barbershop, are potential residents.
"I want to live where there are restaurants and shopping and the people that I like," Hines said.
The apartment building is expected to be completed in 2025 which means in less than two years Karen and many other parents in New Jersey will be able to live near their children while they live independent lives.