It is the first time in his life that 81-year-old Lee McClure is able to enjoy empty-nest syndrome. Lee sits on his back porch in Lakeland, Fla. and can now enjoy his old age, knowing that everything is taken care of—everything meaning his 51-year-old mentally challenged son, Neal.
Neal McClure was born June 11, 1960 and became brain damaged at birth due to lack of oxygen. “It was a blow, so to speak, but I knew that I was going to do the very best that I could for him,” Lee stated. Lee never withheld a luxury for Neal. He wanted his son to have every opportunity that he could. Of Neal’s personality, Lee repeated several times through the interview, “He has never been difficult for me. He’s always been good. Very well mannered. Very well behaved. Never been a problem.” Lee and his wife raised Neal in Ohio and then moved to Florida. Not soon after moving, Lee’s wife passed away.
During our interview, a black cat comes up and looks at my computer, checking out the action. “He doesn’t know he’s a cat,” Lee says with a smile. I laugh even though this is the third time Lee has made that comment in the last ten minutes. Lee McClure suffers from dementia, making it difficult to remember certain things. He lives with Shirley Keith who is caring for him in his final years.
“When I met Lee, just three and half years after his wife passed, he told me his wife died. Then all of a sudden, Lee says to himself, ‘What’s going to happen to my son when I’m gone? His mother is gone and I’m not going to live forever,’” Shirley recounts.
The question of who will take care of their children when they are gone is a common worry of elderly parents with offspring who are developmentally disabled (DD). In 1997, the State of Florida ranked 47th nationally in providing support services for individuals with DD. 93% of Special Education Students with developmental disabilities that received a certificate of attendance will be unemployed and most will remain that way for their entire life. Citizens with DD are likely forced to live with their parents until their parents were too old to properly care for them, or the parents died. Only then would the Agency for Persons with Disabilities assign them to a group home, or commit them to a licensed state facility with people they have never even met.
Although these facts are dismal, Lee found hope! Through a friend who sang in the same quartet as Lee, Lee found about Noah’s Ark. Established in 1997 by Jack Kosik, Noah’s Ark is a unique community created for individuals with developmental disabilities. It advocates on the behalf of those with developmental disabilities as well as providing meaningful employment, recreational and social opportunities and affordable housing in an inclusive community of their choice.
Neal has been at Noah’s Art for approximately six years and lives in what they like to call the “Bachelor Pad” because it’s a typical single man’s apartment-style decked out with Florida Gator paraphernalia. Upon visiting Neal, it was very clear how active and social he is. “He isn’t one to sit in the corner,” says Lee.
With Lee’s dementia and old age, it would be difficult for him to plan activities for Neal. Shirley states, “If Lee hadn’t found a place for Neal, Neal would’ve become dormant because he’s at the age when he can’t go out and do things that Neal might want to do. They would have just sat in the house and stared at one another!” Noah’s Ark provides multiple activities throughout the week to keep residents busy. Neal now bowls on Saturdays, plays golf on Wednesdays, and basketball Fridays—all on top of holding a job at Alliance Friend Dependance.
“Noah’s Ark prevents the offspring from closing up. It offers the person there the ability to expand things in their life and expand what they’re involved in. It’s been a real blessing for me because I don’t have to do everything.” Lee says of the program. In the past, Lee may have said the Neal was a burden, but not anymore.
So what makes Noah’s Ark so different? Jack Kosik, founder of Noah’s Ark, says that it is it’s “holistic approach” and affordable price that makes Noah’s Ark different from other care-giving facilities.
“I think the worst thing that could happen to mentally challenged offspring is to have the parents hover over and shelter, protect, and prevent them from any opportunities available. That’s really a terrible thing for an offspring. But Noah’s Ark gives those like Neal the opportunities they deserve.”
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