DUNEDIN — Nestled at the end of a quiet, wooded lane, the attractive residence on Winding Creek Road looks like an idyllic place to call home.
There's a large fenced back yard with a basketball hoop, tether ball, large swing set — and even an inflatable bounce house.
Every bedroom has an Xbox and plenty of video and board games to play.
If the house could talk — and it can — it would tell you it's quite an exceptional home in many ways.
It opened about a year ago as UPARC's first group home for children. It's a place where six exceptional boys can find plenty of love, attention and acceptance.
It's also a place where they will be safe and secure.
When a door or window is opened, a recorded voice announces where the breach is.
Windows are impact resistant to prevent injury during an outburst.
The closet doors in bedrooms have been removed. No thumbtacks or nails — only tape — can be used to put up favorite pictures, like pretty girls in swimsuits, cute dogs or galloping horses.
The house has vestibular swings, weighted blankets to cuddle in, and other calming devices.
Most of the boys who live here have been bounced from foster home to foster home and from school to school. Their young lives have been filled with instability, uncertainty, negativity, trauma and rejection.
"Their stories are heartbreaking," said Tammy Nenni, associate executive director of the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, better known as UPARC, which operates 22 adult group homes. "Until we had this home, there was really no place for them to go."
• • •
The boys who live at the Winding Creek home are ages 10 to 16, developmentally disabled, and exhibit challenging behaviors that have made them unsuccessful in both family and traditional foster homes.
Some have come from abusive homes. Some may be a danger to themselves or others.
A few have a history of running away.
They may have been Baker Acted — frequently. Many have spent most of their young years on mind-numbing medications.
Two have autism; all have some degree of mental retardation. They may have other problems as well such as attachment disorder, adjustment disorder, and post traumatic stress syndrome.
Here, the goal is to provide them with a sense of normal life and stability.
On a recent day, Chris, 12, played basketball with UPARC residential director Brian Siracusa. It's his favorite sport, he said.
"I like dunkin'. "
He also likes video games and wants wireless Internet in his room so he can play others online.
He hopes one day to live on his own.
James, 14, likes video games, animals and growing tomato plants. He wants to be adopted and have his own place too some day. He's no longer shy and stays out of trouble at school.
Tyler, 15, is learning to use the bathroom on a regular basis. He has a potty monkey to cheer him on. The staff dances when he has success.
Dion, 11, hopes to be reunited with his family and is working on improving his behavior and grades.
He showed Nenni his latest paper, one where he correctly added up the coins. She made a fuss about the "A" grade.
He gave her a hug.
"He's such a little charmer," she said.
• • •
Since the home opened May 26, 2009, the phones won't stop ringing.
"We get calls on a weekly basis from parents, agencies and social services looking for placement," Nenni said.
It costs about $300 per child per day to keep the boys in the heavily staffed home on Winding Creek. The staffers are trained to help children stay active, healthy and focused; they continually provide feedback intended to improve behavioral, problem-solving and self-care skills.
Money to support the group home comes from the UPARC Foundation, in-kind donations, service organizations, Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities and Eckerd Youth Alternatives.
UPARC has just received a $50,000 grant and hopes to open a second children's home by October. Organization officials will look at all the candidates and select those who will, they hope, form a cohesive group.
"We're ready, willing and eager to open another one," Nenni said. "There's a great need out there. If we had the funding, we could probably open three more homes like this by the end of the year."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org