Couple plans to turn historic church camp into FASD community
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - One local couple has a dream: to one day soon turn a historic Topeka church camp into an independent living community for young adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or FASD.
“This property [Forest Park] is amazing,” Kat Meinhardt said. “We are hoping to revitalize a lot of the history--keep the history here. It is a hidden gem here in Topeka.”
Meinhardt is president and CEO of the newly created non-profit Dream Acres.
For the past several years the 45 acre wooded haven tucked behind Reeser’s has been known as the home of Topeka Haunted Woods. Currently owned by the United Methodist Church, it’s functioned as a conference and retreat center in recent years. The church campground originally included more than three dozen family-owned cabins with leases lasting a century--time that’s almost up.
Now, Kat and Cliff Meinhardt are bringing a new dream to the weathered cottages nestled among the natural, old growth forest.
“Well, originally the thought came several years ago by being a parent of numerous children, um, affected with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, knowing that they can’t quite, quite live alone at 18, but yet they’re gonna want to spread their wings,” Kat said. “And so, when Forest Park became available, it just seemed to be the perfect timing.”
The day-to-day of Dream Acres will be an independent living community for those with the lifelong disability known as FASD.
“You could have teenagers who look like every other teenager, but their cognitive ability is about half of their chronological age,” Kat explained.
For instance, one of the Meinhardt’s children living with FASD is five years old. Some mornings he wakes up, and he doesn’t remember how to put on a t-shirt--or even what his t-shirt is. But they know, one day, their kiddo is going to be grown.
“When I was 18, I remember how nervous I was leaving home,” Cliff recalled. “I joined the navy right after, right out of high school. So, I remember those feelings of, of leaving home and, and how nervous I was. And then I think about what the person with FASD is struggling with, and their mind development is about half their age. And so, at nine years old, where was I at? Nine years old? Was I thinking about moving out? No way. I’d have been scared to death.”
Kat explains that it truly is a spectrum of disorders. Every individual’s abilities are different. Some adults living with FASD have gone to college and can thrive independently. Only one other project exists like this here in the U.S.
The Meinhardts hope that Dream Acres will be a light in the dark of night.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who, don’t have this type of opportunity,” Cliff said. “They end up on the streets. They are your next homeless. They are your next, you know, victims of society. There’s a lot of human trafficking out there. So, what we’re doing is we’re, we’re not only helping individuals, but we’re helping our community.”
Dream Acres is a 501c3 nonprofit and gifts are tax deductible. They need about a million-and-a-half dollars to purchase, renovate the property, and be debt-free in their first year. Learn more and join the dream by visiting their website: www.dreamacresfasdcommunity.org or click HERE to make a donation.
Copyright 2022 WIBW. All rights reserved.