Finding Home


Each and every day approximately 353,000 babies are brought into the world by laboring mothers who anxiously wait for the first indication of life … the cry. However, for some mothers, the first cry is coupled doctors and nurses whisking the baby away, or whispering amongst themselves directly in front of the new parents. 

“We have concerns something is not right.”


In an instant, these newly blessed parents find themselves ejected from their comfy seats in first class to immediate placement in the economic section of a plane going way too fast for them to process any of the emotions attached to being the parent of a child with special needs.

Early Intervention, speech and physical therapy, sweat test, failure to thrive, intrauterine growth retardation, legal blindness, hearing impairment, and pervasive developmental disorder become the norm.

The young parents desperately seek answers. 


Appointment after appointment.

Specialist after specialist. 


Nothing but continued frustration over lack of answers as to “why” this happened.

The years past, the young boy develops into his own unique persona, and eventually, the question of “why” gets answered. 

Because HE was created for a greater purpose.


Now, imagine you are a young person with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) watching your siblings get their first car, go on their first date, graduate from high school and college, and eventually, move out of their childhood home into a place of their own.


Imagine you are watching these changes unfold as the oldest child

in the sibling group and the last one left to fly the nest … simply because there is

Lack of suitable housing.


In New York State, over 11,000 individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities await placement into a permanent home away from mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or caregiver. A placement where independence is nurtured, and empowerment thrives. Unfortunately, for these individuals, this means remaining on a list with Central Register at the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) until an opening arises, a list that is approximately 20 years long. 

Austin is one of 11,000 individuals

awaiting placement,


and the inspiration behind The Dirt Road Project’s newest housing project.


And, I was the newly blessed parent. 


In February, Austin will turn 24 years old, the same age I was when I brought him into the world. A young mom with all the hopes and dreams for her precious son, only to have them ripped away and be forced to create new ones for him. 

But, as a woman of faith, I knew God had a greater purpose for Austin with a reason behind his disability.  So, once I got done beating myself up over having possibly done something “wrong” during my pregnancy, I got down to business and learned everything I needed to know about advocating for a child with a disability. And, 



I could have given up, but I did not because I knew he was counting on me to create bigger dreams than ever anticipated. Dreams that would profoundly impact his life and the life of so many others who find themselves on the list at OPWDD. And, that is exactly what I did.



Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of options available to assist their child with residential placement, yet are put in a position to “think outside the box” and to “get creative” when it comes to finding a solution for their disabled child. The push for non-certified settings has significantly increased while funding for certified homes has become essentially nonexistent, largely due to changes made to the home and community-based waiver requirements as set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in Washington, DC. 



In 2018, The Dirt Road Project (TDRP) entered the first phase of development in its newest project, Village of Hope, a diverse housing community designed specifically for individuals with I/DD, consisting of non-certified homes interspersed with companion homes for older adults.


A movement to build communities of hope for people with I/DD.

On the infamous 20-year waiting list.


Each home will feature four single apartments, equipped with bedroom, accessible bathroom, and kitchenette. Coupled with these features will be a community kitchen, living space, laundry room, media room, staff offices, and recreational room. Staff coverage will be available, especially in the evening and night to provide peace of mind for parents and safety coverage for those in our care. Transportation to appointments as well as community activities will be provided as well to ensure a well-lived life. 

But, it doesn’t stop here.


TDRP believes in empowering its residents to live a life that is vibrant and dignified. One that embraces each person’s uniqueness and challenges them to reach their fullest potential. 

Plans to open a bakery, coffee shop, boutique, and bookstore within the Village of Hope are underway, to be fully staffed by TDRP’s residents and open to the community. A funding stream for TDRP’s mission these for-profit-centers will bring community self-awareness regarding those with “different” capabilities. Ultimately, creating dignity and self-worth for residents of the Village of Hope



Volunteer, Sue Wolter Pickett, shares with TDRP:

“My autistic son is one of the most gentle, caring people I know. As he has grown older (just turned 21!), I worry everyday where he will live, where he will work. … With housing for those in need of some sort of assistance quite scarce, the worries I have increase more and more, so much that they keep me awake at night. The Dirt Road Project has relieved these worries! This project can bring independence and dignity to my son! He, as well as so many others, has so much to offer the world. The Dirt Road Project will enable him to reach his full potential …!”

Sue represents one of the 59 families involved with the Building Futures of Hope initiative, created to change the trajectory of the many waiting for a “forever” home for their adult child  (included in this program is Village of Hope).

In Summary


As Austin prepares to turn 24 and the new mother now finds herself with numerous years of advocating for individuals with special needs, it has become quite evident to all that the preterm newborn who entered the world on that chilly February afternoon in 1994 came with a much bigger purpose contained within.

One that would change the lives of so many. 

HOPE has arrived.


To learn more on how you can get involved with TDRP and its mission, contact April Benson at to learn more, or visit us at












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