James Pentis, Stanley Wolf and Jacob Barron, IN members at an outing at Marvelous Marvin’s in Farmington Hills. James Pentis and Jacob Barron behind Community Builder Tonja Shellman.
James Pentis, Stanley Wolf and Jacob Barron, IN members at an outing at Marvelous Marvin’s in Farmington Hills. • James Pentis and Jacob Barron behind Community Builder Tonja Shellman. They are walking home from their social outing at Buffalo Wild Wings. (Courtesy of Terry Matlen)

At the Integrative Neighborhood, residents enjoy pool parties, pizza nights and even taking trips to places like Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

For young adults who have special needs, setting up a secure future is of utmost priority for many parents. That includes safe and inspirational housing where young adults can grow and become the best versions of themselves.

Terry Matlen of Birmingham, whose 34-year-old daughter Mackenzie Matlen has special needs, struggled for years to find the right home for her child where she could be independent but also have support to succeed. “About 10 years ago, when Mackenzie was finishing up a post-high school program, I was wondering, ‘OK, what’s her future now?’” Terry Matlen recalls.

Though Mackenzie was working on vocational goals, the issue about where she was going to live in the future continued to press the Matlen family. “I’m not going to be here forever, and her father is not going to be here forever,” Terry explains. “I needed to set her up so that she is in a stable environment where I know she’ll be OK for the rest of her life.”

Working with other parents facing the same concerns for their children who have special needs, who were steadily becoming young adults, a handful of moms developed a program known as an Integrative Neighborhood in 2014. Inspired by a similar neighborhood in Washtenaw County, where young adults who have disabilities could rent units and live together in small supportive “pods,” the parents built a like-minded community in Farmington Hills.

“I was awestruck,” Terry says of initially learning about the Washtenaw County neighborhood. “These young adults were so happy to be on their own. They were so proud of their apartments.”

Now, local residents who have special needs can have the same housing opportunity. The first Oakland County pod is finally off the ground and thriving. Located at the Hunter’s Ridge complex, where Mackenzie Matlen will be moving to in a few weeks, five residents who have special needs share three apartments.

 IN member Spencer Cohn stands behind parents, Melanie and Harry Cohn. Melanie is the president of the board and has taken on the hard work of making the first Integrative Neighborhood in Oakland County a reality.
IN member Spencer Cohn stands behind parents, Melanie and Harry Cohn. Melanie is the president of the board and has taken on the hard work of making the first Integrative Neighborhood in Oakland County a reality. Courtesy of Terry Matlen

There, they socialize, encourage one another and learn how to be independent while developing crucial interpersonal and life skills. They’re also close enough to their parents to provide an important safety net for both the young adults and their families.

Integrative Neighborhoods of Oakland County, led by parent Melanie Koblin-Cohn, has even been able to hire its first Community Builder, a woman living in her own apartment paid for by the families of residents to help the young adults socialize. “My daughter went from zero friends to having a whole community of friends,” Terry explains of the neighborhood, which has been especially important during COVID-19 when most young adults were more isolated than ever.

Fun Activities

At the Integrative Neighborhood, residents enjoy pool parties, pizza nights and even taking trips to places like Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. “Before, Mackenzie was pretty isolated,” Terry says, adding her daughter previously lived at a different complex where these opportunities weren’t possible. Access became even more restricted throughout the pandemic when Mackenzie moved back home for a few months during the height of the crisis.

Terry wants more families who have adults with special needs to be able to learn about opportunities such as Integrated Neighborhoods of Oakland County. “It takes a huge emotional and physical toll on the parents,” Terry says of having a child who has special needs. “It’s a job that never ends. The concern is that parents don’t often know where to go or what to do, so they keep their adult children home. Some of them are doing nothing other than watching TV.”

Mackenzie Matlen.
Mackenzie Matlen.

Knowing these neighborhoods are out there can give parents and their children hope, Terry believes. “My hope is that more people will come to the Integrative Neighborhoods, and we can have a larger group of young adults,” she says, “so they can do more social activities, make more connections and gain more friends that they may have never had before.”

Integrative Neighborhoods of Oakland County doesn’t plan to stop with the Farmington Hills community. They’re also in talks with JARC, a Jewish organization that serves people with developmental disabilities, to potentially open an Oak Park community to benefit the area’s Orthodox population.

“That’s a dream of ours,” Terry says. “Our hope is to expand because there’s a huge need and a lot of parents don’t know about this program.” 

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