Judson Center home could face closure

By: Elizabeth Scussel | C&G Newspapers | Published June 10, 2015

OAKLAND COUNTY — The constant juggle of work and school, as well as a number of other daily responsibilities, can be a strain on many families.

When physical and cognitive disabilities are tossed into the mix, the results can be positively overwhelming, explained Kelli Dobner, vice president and chief development officer for the Judson Center.

For more than 90 years, the Judson Center has provided services to strengthen children, adults and families impacted by autism, developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, abuse and neglect.

The Judson Center currently assists more than 6,000 people annually through a plethora of programs for children and adults, including counseling and therapy, social groups, vocational services, foster care and more.

The Judson Center currently has one respite home in Macomb County and one in Oakland County. Two years ago, its respite home in Wayne County closed due to a lack of utilization.

Lahser Respite Home in Oakland County resides on Lahser Road in Beverly Hills — a few miles down the road from Judson Center Oakland.

The home can accommodate six children between the ages of 5 and 17, and their stays can last anywhere from four hours to several days. If a child begins service there before the age of 17, the home can actually provide services until he or she reaches the age of 26.

Comfort, care and activities are provided at the home, offering a break to family members and caregivers.

LRH currently serves as the only respite home in Oakland County for youth ages 18 and younger, and due to a decline in mental health funding, it is in danger of closing its doors permanently come September.

While the Judson Center and a number of concerned residents are hosting fundraisers to help save LRH, it may not be enough.

Last week, a skeet shooting fundraiser at Bald Mountain raised money for the cause.

Dolores Baran, of Troy, recently hosted Fashion and Fundraising at Saks Fifth Avenue to benefit the LRH — as the home shutting down is something she could not bear.

“It was actually planned for closing (this past) January, but there was a large donation from an insurance company and benefactor that allowed it to stay open longer,” she said.

Baran has been sending her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Christofis, to LHR for the greater part of a decade. Natalie has a severe mental impairment, as well as autism. She is nonverbal and has the mental capacity of an 18-month-old.

Baran explained that while her family does receive extra hands from close friends and babysitters, LRH provides a well-deserved break from daily struggles.

And it’s also a break for Natalie.

“We consider the home a vacation for the children,” Baran said, explaining that LRH takes the children on daytrips to the park, as well as local events. It’s not, she said, just a place that will plop the children in front of a TV all day. “They love the kids and love to keep them active.”

Baran explained that in most cases, staff from LRH will also provide school drop-off and pick-up services for the children.

“For us, this works very well, since there isn’t drama because we need to drop her off,” Baran said.

For parents who may be on the fence or hesitant about sending their children, Baran offers advice.

“Don’t feel nervous, guilty or leery,” she said. “Parents will always feel guilty leaving their children. But get over that hump and try it. Maybe a little at a time — and not overnight at first — but have faith. The people (at LRH) are really loving.”

Don’t be afraid, she said: There is help for people who need it.

While private pay is an option at LRH, financial aid is offered through the Macomb Oakland Regional Center — a state agency providing services and support for people with developmental disabilities.

State funding currently covers about 50-60 percent of the yearly operating cost of the home. LRH must raise an additional $120,000 to keep the operation running.

The services provided at LRH, Dobner said, are a necessity, as caring for someone with a mental or physical disability can be unbelievably taxing on marriages and families.

“We really just want an opportunity to educate the community on the Lahser Center. It’s not a luxury — it’s a need, and it will go away,” Dobner said, explaining that LRH currently assists 45 families, which, due to budget cuts, is a decrease from last year’s 61 families.

“It truly worries us — what are these families going to do?” Baran said. “We want to stand up on our soapbox and advocate. We’re here to serve the families — and their voice is much more important than ours. We have really strong advocate families, and we’re lucky to have their voice.”

Dobner said there are always ups and downs with state funding, and the Judson Center is currently in a storm it must weather.

“We need support,” she said. “Judson Center has been around for 90 years, and once you’re a part of the Judson Center, you’re always a part — we watch a lot of these kids grow up. We’re a one-stop shop, and without (LRH), there will be a huge piece missing.”

For more information on the Judson Center or to get involved, visit www.judsoncenter.org. To reach the Lahser Respite Home, call (248) 646-1297.