Independence is a lifestyle that most adults have the opportunity to grow into, but that evolution isn't a foreseeable possibility for many who are physically — and often times mentally — dependent on others to help them move through their day.

Nonprofit HOPE (Home Ownership for Personal Empowerment) Inc. is challenging the classic idea of independence for some Long Beach residents with a renovated housing complex in Bixby Knolls. 

The complex was purchased with the assistance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and acquired by HOPE in partnership with its parent organization, Harbor Regional Center, and SL Start, a supported living organization.

Together, their program titled "On My Own" provides spaces and programs for adults with developmental disabilities to have the opportunity to live a more independent lifestyle than they may have while living with family or in a group home environment, according to Ian Nevarez, manager of community relations at HOPE Inc.

"We're helping clients with disabilities and placing them in programs that best help them," Nevarez said. "From physical therapy to money management — everyone is unique with different needs."

Individual uniqueness was an inspiration for this program, Nevarez added — and that's reason enough to believe that individuals are able to learn independence despite disabilities.

29-year-old Tammy, a resident at the new Bixby Knolls complex, said that this is the first time she's able to live by herself in her own apartment.

"I like it here a lot," she said. "I get along with everybody."

For Tammy, this is the first opportunity she has had to learn how to live on her own, without the assistance of her parents. Independence for her includes learning how to do laundry, cook her own meals and work a few hours a day at a local clothing store.

"This (the apartment living environment) is about being more independent," Margaret-Ann Semblante, residential administrator, said. "Just from February to now, Tammy has grown so much."

Semblante added that the idea for the complex is for all of the residents to make independent breakthroughs during their stay, which does not have a time limit. Residents have the potential to make this apartment complex their permanent living space, if they choose.

"It's (the learning process) supposed to be as natural as possible," Semblante said, adding that although there is staff available 24 hours a day to provide at-home support. The residents are able to judge if and when they need help, if any.

Upon move-in, Tammy said she had help locating bus stops and walking around the Bixby Knolls neighborhood, but soon she was adventuring on her own and navigating public transportation without assistance.

Tammy also has taken the initiative to make friends and encourage the other residents to use public transportation, see movies and go shopping, she added.

"I'm still getting to know the Long Beach area," Tammy added. "But I like it here."

As for Tammy's parents, she said that they are happy for her, but want to make sure she's eating well.

"Mom used to do all the cooking," she said. "They're happy for me, but they want me to have a well balanced meal... You know, different, good, foods for every meal."

Sembalante added that Tammy's parents sound like most parents she meets.

"I've learned that it's hard (for parents) to let go," she said. "But it's such an awesome experience to have freedom and a chance to grow."

Angela Luksetich expressed a similar sentiment about her daughter, Maria, moving into the complex on her own.

"As parents, you're concerned about everything," she said. "Everything from cleaning to cooking — now they have to do it."

But Luksetich had only positive things to say about the apartment complex and the program.

"She likes her apartment and having her own place," she said. "She feels like a grown up."

Luksetich said that although she lives close and is able to assist her daughter when she needs it, she trusts that Maria is safe and is learning to become more independent with the help of the HOPE and its partners.

"I feel perfectly fine," Luksetich said. "I feel like she (Maria) is in a good place."

For more information on HOPE, visit hope-homes.org. For more information on SL Start, visit slstart.com.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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