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Group offers independence for mentally challenged residents

The system today believes mentally challenged people need to be integrated into the normal life of mainstream society. This is a great concept but presents challenges.

One challenge is to educate the community about this population. For instance, in Gwinnett County, most of our clients live with their parents or a family member. This type of living situation can create a dependency that hinders integration into mainstream society, while also minimizing the growth of self-esteem and independence.

However, another even bigger challenge is when mentally challenged adults live independently. Because of their childlike trust, they become one of the most vulnerable, at-risk segments of our population. The discrimination is even greater, leading some to be even more burdened with the pain of loneliness.

Addressing these issues is where "Just" People Inc. is extremely effective. Since our beginning days, we have had the philosophy that all people - regardless of intellectual capabilities, socioeconomic background, race or gender - are valued members of the community. We have always envisioned a community where each cherished member, able or disabled, lives a full and rich life reaching his or her maximum potential.

With the help of citizens, businesses, foundations and families, the "Just" People Village (an apartment complex in Roswell) opened in November 2004. It is a beautifully designed property with 56 apartments, a clubhouse and swimming pool, where 105 people with a wide variety of challenges live. There are married couples, roommates and individuals that have a community to call home. On-site staff are available as needed. The atmosphere is incredible because everyone is accepting of everyone else.

Of those who live there, 95 percent work in the community, and we have found them to be very successful. This is our goal for the clients we serve in Gwinnett County: to live full and complete lives through providing services that are otherwise unavailable or unaffordable. But this can only be done with support from citizens, local businesses, grants, foundations and families.

The daily services provided by "Just" People foster an independent freedom that encourages daily activity in mainstream society, promote the growth of self-esteem and assist clients in enhancing their daily lives.

"Just" People vans run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight every day, getting clients to and from work, to and from the grocery store, malls, parties, picnics, classes, trips and more. We offer weekly job skills classes, independent living skills classes (cooking, cleaning, hygiene, budgeting, meal planning, health and fitness, etc.) and socially appropriate behavior skills to help our clients live as independently as possible.

We are working to develop an information package for families moving into this community and people already living here to make them aware of what is available to them.

We welcome volunteers to work with the sports program or day program or become a big brother or

sister.

Donations are also accepted to help with the cost of social activities, sports equipment, dental bills, setting up house or for wish lists of clients. All money donated is tax-deductible, and 100 percent goes to the area you request to donate to.

For information about "Just" People Inc., call 770-441-1188.