13:20 PM

Community Impact: Our Neighbor, Inc.

Our Neighbor, Inc., in Gainesville, helps people with disabilities gain independence through residential living and working at jobs in the community.

The Jackson EMC Foundation recently awarded the nonprofit organization a $10,000 grant for housing scholarships to subsidize rent so those with disabilities can live in a house and become more independent. Our Neighbor operates three residential homes—two for men and one for women.

“Many of our residents would face life in a nursing home if it weren't for the services Our Neighbor provides,” said executive director Mary Margaret Calvert, noting that the Jackson EMC Foundation grant made it possible to immediately add two new residents. “One of them had been on our waiting list for two years. I can’t even tell you how much we appreciate it.I’ve said it a million times, the grants from the Jackson EMC Foundation make a huge difference for us.”

Our Neighbor provides clients the opportunity to live in a residential neighborhood with housemates. All residents are encouraged to increase their independence. Our Neighbor helps them accomplish this by addressing the barriers to self sufficiency,according to Calvert who says emphasis is placed on promoting lifestyles of fiscal and emotional responsibility.

“We teach life skills, including budgeting, meal planning and preparation, value shopping, personal hygiene, property maintenance and upkeep, and community involvement,” she said. “And we encourage clients to search for employment or volunteer.”

Our Neighbor was established in 2007 by Marty Owens and her son, Randy, who, confined to a wheelchair, recognized limited options for living independently. Calvert has worked with the nonprofit since 2009. Along with providing a home, Our Neighbor offers an assisted employment program. At The Next Chapter Bookstore in downtown Gainesville, residents work, earn a paycheck and learn job skills.

“They get up, get dressed and go to work,” Calvert said. “For some, it’s resume building. For others, it’s a job. Either way,they run the bookstore, which reduces the stigma of persons with disabilities as they interact with the public and become productive members of the community. Everybody knows our guys. It’s sweet to watch.”

Three Our Neighbor residents who received job training at the bookstore now work at other jobs – one at a restaurant and two at grocery stores. Along with housing, job opportunities and life skills training, Our Neighbor provides transportation for residents through a partnership with Avita Community Partners, which takes them to the grocery store and doctor appointments, according to Calvert.

Residents of Our Neighbor consistently show increased mobility, the ability to articulate, and improved health and outlook while seeing a decrease in the need for medication, hospitalization, mental and other health services, according to Calvert.

For more information about Our Neighbor, visit ourneighbor.org.