'Moonlight in Vines' event tonight to support Sunflower Hill

Organization seeks to build 'communities' for adults with special needs

A sell-out "Moonlight in the Vines" dinner and dance tonight at McGrail Vineyards is another step forward in Sunflower Hill's campaign to provide residential communities in the Tri-Valley for adults with special needs.

Founded by Susan Houghton with other parents of older children with developmental delays, Sunflower Hill is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to create a sustainable residential community for individuals with special needs, something similar to senior living. It would not only support life-long living opportunities, but also offer social, vocational, educational and recreational programs to ensure a full and productive life.

Tomorrow night's event is just one of many fundraisers Sunflower Hill has been conducting to raise widespread recognition and support for creating long-term housing and care for adults with special needs.

Houghton knows of the need firsthand. Her son Robby, who has moderate autism, had been in a world of caring teachers, academics and activities since he was 4. When he turned 22, that all ended as most programs cater to higher-functioning individuals while those with mild to moderate delays are left behind.

Sunflower Hill wants to end that by providing communities where older individuals with needs can thrive and achieve their potential. In these special communities, they can have stable futures as they age, even after their caring parents are gone.

As a first step for the Tri-Valley, Sunflower Hill has filed design and entitlement paperwork for a new 45-unit "affinity" residential community in Livermore for individuals with developmental disabilities. It would be built on a 2.2-acre parcel that houses a 2,700-square-foot home built in 1927 by Robert Schenone, the grandson of city founder Robert Livermore.

Sunflower Hill is partnering with MidPen Housing Corp., as the affordable housing developer. The new community will offer residents a variety of choices in independent living, including junior suites, studios, one- and two-bedroom units. In several buildings, space for caregivers will also be provided.

Proposed amenities will include a large dining hall and commercial kitchen, fitness, game and craft rooms, a therapeutic pool and outdoor areas. MidPen Housing will provide property management services with a full-time manager living on-site.

Meanwhile, a proposed Irby Ranch/Sunflower Hill site in Pleasanton is moving forward in the review process. The city's Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 to discuss the Irby Ranch subdivision that would include a special needs development.

At an earlier meeting with city planners, developer Mike Serpa said he wants to develop the agricultural site with 93 two- and three-story homes and a special needs community operated by Sunflower Hill. The site, at 3780 Stanley Blvd. and familiar to passing motorists for years, is marked by a long-closed family market and a rusting tractor as well as three farm-like homes owned by the Irby, Kaplan and Zia families.

The proposed development would include extending Nevada Street from Bernal Avenue along the backside of the proposed homes and then north through the development to connect at Stanley with the junction at Old Stanley. The extension, long a part of the city's street plan, would open another access to Stanley from Bernal.

Houghton said there are more than 700 special needs individuals in Pleasanton who need housing. She said the units planned for Serpa's new development would be similar to college dormitories with common areas for recreation, kitchens and dining. One large building would serve as a community center, and the complex would include a swimming pool and other outdoor amenities.

"Most of the adults with special needs who would live there will never marry but they will live together," she said. "Most don't have physical disabilities, just mental."

Houghton said that in November 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a updated statistic: one in 45 children in the U.S. are now being diagnosed with autism. This is a increase from one in 150 in 1992 and essentially means that approximately 2% of all children in the U.S. ages 3-17 have some form of autism.

As these children become adults, there is and will continue to be a tremendous need for housing and support services.

Sunflower Hill seeks to enhance the options available to those with special needs by creating a diverse community of choice that supports a sustainable, productive and happy quality of life.

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