Video Podcast — 12 Minutes

Episode 25: Oak Tree Farm!
(Part 1)

Video Podcast — 12 Minutes

Episode 25: Oak Tree Farm!
(Part 1)

Oak Tree Farm will be an affordable housing community designed for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities. The community will include access to transportation, life skills training, an amenities center, a swimming pool, on-site laundry facilities, and more. Oak Tree Farm is a project of SOS Care and SOS Care CEO Sarah Pope joins us today to tell us about this exciting venture.

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Dr. Gwynette: Hello and welcome to the Autism News Network, Oak Tree Farm edition. We are thrilled today to have a very special guest who’s going to tell us about something that has generated a lot of buzz in South Carolina. Many of my colleagues, as well as some of the autism community ask, “What is this Oak Tree Farm?”

We’re excited to hear more about it. So here at the Autism News Network, we thought, what better way to learn about Oak Tree Farm than to talk to the Director of Oak Tree Farm and the CEO of SOS Care, Ms. Sarah Pope. Welcome, Ms. Pope.

Sarah Pope: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah and we’re glad to have you. We are joined of course by our illustrious Autism News Network correspondents. We’re going to do a round robin question session and without further ado, we’re off and running with Patrick, who has the first question for Ms. Pope?

Patrick: Where are you from originally?

Sarah Pope: I was born in Battersea in London, in the United Kingdom.

Chris: That’s pretty cool, my grandmother was from England.

Ainsley: I have a great grandmother who lived in England, but she passed away.

Sarah Pope: Oh, that’s sad.

Patrick: How long have you been in South Carolina?

Sarah Pope: I have lived in South Carolina for 28 years.

Dr. Gwynette: Now. We’ll go on to Ainslie.

Ainsley: How did you develop a heart for autism Ms. Pope?

Sarah Pope: Well, when I lived in England, I decided that I wanted to get in school to be a social worker. While I was studying in college, one of my internships was to go and work at the National Autistic Society. That was my first internship. I went to a school where children with autism were being helped. As soon as I walked into the school, I knew that that was where my heart lied and I knew that I would be in the field.

So I began studying everything I could about autism and I’ve been in the field ever since. I was 18. I’m much older now, and I also have two children of my own that have autism. One is 26 and one is 19.

Dr. Gwynette: [inaudible 00:02:51] Oak Tree Farm?

Sarah Pope: Well, Oak Tree Farm has been really a dream for a long time. When I was in London, I worked in a very nice residential sort of program for people with disabilities, and I liked them. It was very independent and people were able to choose their homes and who they wanted to live with. I’ve sort of had that in my heart for a long time.

Now that I’m working at SOS Care, we work with lots of adults that have autism and have some other disabilities. We talk to them about where would they like to live if they were given a choice of different options and they could be more independent. Oak Tree Farm really came from them.

They said, “We want to have our own place. We want to be independent. We don’t want to live at home forever with family, but we want to be together because we’re friends and we’d like the support of each other. And we like being comfortable around people who were like us.” So we said, “Fine, we’ll help build a community that meets all of those needs.” That’s where the idea really came from for Oak Tree Farm.

Dr. Gwynette: And our next question comes from Miles. Take it away, Miles.

Miles: How would Oak Tree Farm work?

Sarah Pope: Well, Oak Tree Farm works because people fill out a survey for us and they tell us they’re interested in going to maybe live at Oak Tree Farm. So we get some information on the survey, which tells us a few details about a person, how independent they might be with certain skills.

It tells a little bit about their disability. Then we use that survey information to put them on a wait list because we actually have 250 people waiting, who would like to live in a place like Oak Tree Farm. Then we send out an application to them, which collects a lot more detailed information. Like, “Can you do your own laundry? Can you do your own grocery shopping? Can you stay by yourself, for how many hours per day? What kinds of help would you need to be able to live there and be as independent as you can?”

So those were some of the things that we started working on when we came up with the details of actually the programming part of Oak Tree Farm.

Dr. Gwynette: Now, we’re onto Lee. Lee, if you want to mention your special interests in Oak Tree Farm, feel free to do that. But now we’re onto question six.

Lee: I asked about the future residents at Oak Tree Farm; what are their strengths and challenges?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question, Lee, and I bet you can probably help me with that, right? Does the group know about your interest at Oak Tree Farm?

Lee: No. They know that I may be going there, yes.

Sarah Pope: What do you think your strengths are for being able to live at Oak Tree Farm?

Lee: I have a willingness to learn about how to become more independent. I think that it would help me to go there.

Sarah Pope: I’d like that, and what do you think your weakness might be or things you might need help with while you were living there?

Lee: Things like doing my laundry and stuff. I need to brush up on it and just make sure I still know how to do it. Just small details like that.

Sarah Pope: So a lot of the different people that will be going there have different needs. The things that Lee is talking about are the things that we would have in a care plan.

So we would make a care plan with each resident and really see what their needs are specifically, so we can find out who will be the person that helps with things like that. So who’s going to help Lee do his laundry and make sure that he’s able to do that well, so he feels good about it and he can be more independent.

We’ll really look at those needs and everybody has different needs, right? We’re all good at some things. I’m not so great at doing dishes, and so I assigned someone else in my house dishes. I don’t love cutting the grass, so someone else cuts the grass. So we would have a care plan for each person. So you could talk about the things you’re good at that you want to share with people and the things you need help with that we would try and find someone else that may be as good at that, that already lives there, that could help you.

Dr. Gwynette: Great, and now we’re onto a question from Scott.

Scott: How much support do you have behind Oak Tree Farm, to make it a reality?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question, and I have a lot of support. It has been the hardest thing I have ever worked on because I am not a developer of land and buildings, and all of those things. So I had to find the help and support I needed from people that had more knowledge than me about how to do this.

I needed a very good person with a financial background and she works with me in the office. She’s a finance manager. I needed help with the general contractor that actually builds buildings. I needed help with someone that actually does the infrastructure for new neighborhoods. Those are the people that go in and cut down the trees and put in water pipes and run electricity under the ground, and all of those things.

So those were the things that were my weakness in the project and things that I really needed help with. So I believe it’s good to gather your team of people because we all have different things we’re good at, and you put them all together and then you’re able to make a project happen.

Dr. Gwynette: And now we’re going to Kristina with our next question.

Kristina: How are you funded?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question too. We’re funded in multiple ways. So some of the beginning infrastructure and clearing the ground and laying the pipes and all of those things I’m talking about, we actually have a construction loan with South State Bank. SOS Care, our organization, had to take out a loan to be able to start the project.

Then we applied for funding for the first house. So we wrote a grant to the South Carolina Housing Authority, and they helped us with funding for the first house, which is actually the house that Lee is going to live in. Right now, we have applied for additional funding from the same group in Columbia.

We’re hoping, so you all hope with me, keep your fingers crossed, that we’re going to learn about the funding we receive in a new grant so that we can build the next phase.

Dr. Gwynette: Now we’re going to move on to… The next question is from Patrick. Patrick, take it away.

Patrick: What will the housing structure be like?

Sarah Pope: The housing structure, the first house that we’ve built is a duplex. So it’s two houses that are joined together with a wall. One side has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and the other side of the house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. So the first house is a one story duplex.

The next phase of housing that we build are actually going to be two story, apartment buildings, and they have 12 apartment units in each building. Some of them have three beds, some have two and some have one. So it depends on if people like to have a roommate or they like to have two roommates, or they don’t want to have a roommate at all. So they can choose the way they would like to live in that structure.

Dr. Gwynette: Hello and welcome to the Autism News Network, Oak Tree Farm edition. We are thrilled today to have a very special guest who’s going to tell us about something that has generated a lot of buzz in South Carolina. Many of my colleagues, as well as some of the autism community ask, “What is this Oak Tree Farm?”

We’re excited to hear more about it. So here at the Autism News Network, we thought, what better way to learn about Oak Tree Farm than to talk to the Director of Oak Tree Farm and the CEO of SOS Care, Ms. Sarah Pope. Welcome, Ms. Pope.

Sarah Pope: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.

Dr. Gwynette: Yeah and we’re glad to have you. We are joined of course by our illustrious Autism News Network correspondents. We’re going to do a round robin question session and without further ado, we’re off and running with Patrick, who has the first question for Ms. Pope?

Patrick: Where are you from originally?

Sarah Pope: I was born in Battersea in London, in the United Kingdom.

Chris: That’s pretty cool, my grandmother was from England.

Ainsley: I have a great grandmother who lived in England, but she passed away.

Sarah Pope: Oh, that’s sad.

Patrick: How long have you been in South Carolina?

Sarah Pope: I have lived in South Carolina for 28 years.

Dr. Gwynette: Now. We’ll go on to Ainslie.

Ainsley: How did you develop a heart for autism Ms. Pope?

Sarah Pope: Well, when I lived in England, I decided that I wanted to get in school to be a social worker. While I was studying in college, one of my internships was to go and work at the National Autistic Society. That was my first internship. I went to a school where children with autism were being helped. As soon as I walked into the school, I knew that that was where my heart lied and I knew that I would be in the field.

So I began studying everything I could about autism and I’ve been in the field ever since. I was 18. I’m much older now, and I also have two children of my own that have autism. One is 26 and one is 19.

Dr. Gwynette: [inaudible 00:02:51] Oak Tree Farm?

Sarah Pope: Well, Oak Tree Farm has been really a dream for a long time. When I was in London, I worked in a very nice residential sort of program for people with disabilities, and I liked them. It was very independent and people were able to choose their homes and who they wanted to live with. I’ve sort of had that in my heart for a long time.

Now that I’m working at SOS Care, we work with lots of adults that have autism and have some other disabilities. We talk to them about where would they like to live if they were given a choice of different options and they could be more independent. Oak Tree Farm really came from them.

They said, “We want to have our own place. We want to be independent. We don’t want to live at home forever with family, but we want to be together because we’re friends and we’d like the support of each other. And we like being comfortable around people who were like us.” So we said, “Fine, we’ll help build a community that meets all of those needs.” That’s where the idea really came from for Oak Tree Farm.

Dr. Gwynette: And our next question comes from Miles. Take it away, Miles.

Miles: How would Oak Tree Farm work?

Sarah Pope: Well, Oak Tree Farm works because people fill out a survey for us and they tell us they’re interested in going to maybe live at Oak Tree Farm. So we get some information on the survey, which tells us a few details about a person, how independent they might be with certain skills.

It tells a little bit about their disability. Then we use that survey information to put them on a wait list because we actually have 250 people waiting, who would like to live in a place like Oak Tree Farm. Then we send out an application to them, which collects a lot more detailed information. Like, “Can you do your own laundry? Can you do your own grocery shopping? Can you stay by yourself, for how many hours per day? What kinds of help would you need to be able to live there and be as independent as you can?”

So those were some of the things that we started working on when we came up with the details of actually the programming part of Oak Tree Farm.

Dr. Gwynette: Now, we’re onto Lee. Lee, if you want to mention your special interests in Oak Tree Farm, feel free to do that. But now we’re onto question six.

Lee: I asked about the future residents at Oak Tree Farm; what are their strengths and challenges?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question, Lee, and I bet you can probably help me with that, right? Does the group know about your interest at Oak Tree Farm?

Lee: No. They know that I may be going there, yes.

Sarah Pope: What do you think your strengths are for being able to live at Oak Tree Farm?

Lee: I have a willingness to learn about how to become more independent. I think that it would help me to go there.

Sarah Pope: I’d like that, and what do you think your weakness might be or things you might need help with while you were living there?

Lee: Things like doing my laundry and stuff. I need to brush up on it and just make sure I still know how to do it. Just small details like that.

Sarah Pope: So a lot of the different people that will be going there have different needs. The things that Lee is talking about are the things that we would have in a care plan.

So we would make a care plan with each resident and really see what their needs are specifically, so we can find out who will be the person that helps with things like that. So who’s going to help Lee do his laundry and make sure that he’s able to do that well, so he feels good about it and he can be more independent.

We’ll really look at those needs and everybody has different needs, right? We’re all good at some things. I’m not so great at doing dishes, and so I assigned someone else in my house dishes. I don’t love cutting the grass, so someone else cuts the grass. So we would have a care plan for each person. So you could talk about the things you’re good at that you want to share with people and the things you need help with that we would try and find someone else that may be as good at that, that already lives there, that could help you.

Dr. Gwynette: Great, and now we’re onto a question from Scott.

Scott: How much support do you have behind Oak Tree Farm, to make it a reality?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question, and I have a lot of support. It has been the hardest thing I have ever worked on because I am not a developer of land and buildings, and all of those things. So I had to find the help and support I needed from people that had more knowledge than me about how to do this.

I needed a very good person with a financial background and she works with me in the office. She’s a finance manager. I needed help with the general contractor that actually builds buildings. I needed help with someone that actually does the infrastructure for new neighborhoods. Those are the people that go in and cut down the trees and put in water pipes and run electricity under the ground, and all of those things.

So those were the things that were my weakness in the project and things that I really needed help with. So I believe it’s good to gather your team of people because we all have different things we’re good at, and you put them all together and then you’re able to make a project happen.

Dr. Gwynette: And now we’re going to Kristina with our next question.

Kristina: How are you funded?

Sarah Pope: That’s a great question too. We’re funded in multiple ways. So some of the beginning infrastructure and clearing the ground and laying the pipes and all of those things I’m talking about, we actually have a construction loan with South State Bank. SOS Care, our organization, had to take out a loan to be able to start the project.

Then we applied for funding for the first house. So we wrote a grant to the South Carolina Housing Authority, and they helped us with funding for the first house, which is actually the house that Lee is going to live in. Right now, we have applied for additional funding from the same group in Columbia.

We’re hoping, so you all hope with me, keep your fingers crossed, that we’re going to learn about the funding we receive in a new grant so that we can build the next phase.

Dr. Gwynette: Now we’re going to move on to… The next question is from Patrick. Patrick, take it away.

Patrick: What will the housing structure be like?

Sarah Pope: The housing structure, the first house that we’ve built is a duplex. So it’s two houses that are joined together with a wall. One side has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and the other side of the house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. So the first house is a one story duplex.

The next phase of housing that we build are actually going to be two story, apartment buildings, and they have 12 apartment units in each building. Some of them have three beds, some have two and some have one. So it depends on if people like to have a roommate or they like to have two roommates, or they don’t want to have a roommate at all. So they can choose the way they would like to live in that structure.

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