Promising Future for Promise in Brevard

This is a fantastic article that recently appeared in Florida Today. Read the full text of the article on the Promise website right here. show / hide article

Promising Future for Promise in Brevard

Group’s vision is clear: build a place where special-needs adults and families can live and work on their own

Pick almost any weekend, and you can find Betsy Farmer at some sort of community event raising money for Promise in Brevard, a proposed housing complex for special-needs individuals and their families. “I can see the community rallying around this project,” said Farmer, the executive director and the mastermind of Promise in Brevard, which is designed to give special-needs adults a place where they can live and work integrated with the general public. That community support has helped Promise in Brevard, as well as Brevard Field of Dreams, the separate, but similar project to build a sport complex for special-needs children, continue to move forward. Both are slated to be built in West Melbourne. Combined, the two projects are poised to create a centerpiece in the city that, when complete, will set West Melbourne apart, city leaders say. “I think the community is truly excited about this,” West Melbourne Mayor Hal Rose said. “It’s a project that crosses all lines and all levels. I think everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Since Promise in Brevard began its fundraising last fall, dozens of businesses and groups have stepped up to lend support, raising money with raffles, bowl-a-thons, Zumba classes and other events. Among the biggest supporters has been Florida Tech, which will partner with Promise in Brevard. Students from the university will have the opportunity to live rent-free at Promise in Brevard in exchange for working at the complex as housing assistants. The students, however, didn’t wait for the construction to be complete before they started their work. The Florida Tech chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, for example, adopted Promise in Brevard, providing physical labor and financial support at the non-profit’s events. And Florida Tech marketing students coordinated an online and campus campaign that helped Promise in Brevard win $10,000 from the Chase Community Giving competition on Facebook.

But the single largest contribution has come from West Melbourne, which agreed to give $75,000 in funding it received that can only be used for affordable housing to Promise in Brevard. “They are not just giving us cash, they are giving us an opportunity,” Farmer said. “They have this amazing vision of what’s going to be really great for their community. They want our kids to be an integral part of their community. “I love the fact they can see the big picture.”

The process hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Promise. When it was announced last year, the housing complex was to be built on the south side of Norfolk Parkway east of Minton Road. But the deal for 20 acres fell through, and Promise in Brevard was eventually outbid on that land, which was a part of an overall 62-acre parcel. But Farmer wasn’t deterred. She knew the property across the street was for sale and worked out a deal with its owner Don Facciobene, whose construction company will also build the complex. “This is where we are supposed to be,” she said. “Sometimes, things happen for a reason.” Promise in Brevard will pay $1.5 million for the 39 acres, however the purchase will be broken up into three transactions with Promise paying for $500,000 each third of the parcel, Farmer said.

Promise in Brevard has been approved for a $750,000 predevelopment loan from the Florida Housing and Finance Corporation, a portion of which will be used to purchase the first 11 acres where the housing complex will be built, she said. The housing complex is estimated to cost $13 million, but Farmer estimated Promise in Brevard will need about $2 million in additional fundraising to build the project without the need for it to take out a mortgage.

The organization, she said, will apply to the state for $9.75 million in low-income housing tax credits to finance a large portion of the cost. Those credits can be sold to corporations with the proceeds going to pay construction costs. Farmer is confident that the donations will come in, either little by little through the community fundraisers or by the “secret millionaire” that Farmer says, only half-jokingly, will come out of the blue to help the project. But what’s got Farmer excited about Promise in Brevard is that the residents who live there will soon be able to serve the community that supported them. A big part of the Promise in Brevard model is creating jobs for the future residents, of which only about 26 percent are employed. Among the businesses that will be housed at the complex are a hydroponic garden and nursery with produce being sold at a farmer’s market, a thrift store, a pet day care and a special needs-friendly bed and breakfast. All will be staffed by Promise in Brevard residents. “By the time we get this up and running, we expect to have about 80 to 90 percent of our residents working,” Farmer said. Instead of asking for donations, “We can tell the community come to our businesses. Come to the farmer’s market. Come have lunch. Support us that way.”

Promise Cafe and Bakery, another job component of Promise in Brevard, won’t be on the housing complex, but about a mile north on Minton Road at West Melbourne Community Park. The restaurant will provide culinary arts training for Promise in Brevard residents while providing concessions for the park. To the north of the cafe will be Brevard Field of Dreams, which, while more quietly, is making similar advances. The board of directors for the sports complex, which will sit on about five acres of an 18-acre city-owned park, recently approved the conceptual drawings of the future facility, board member Milo Zonka said. Zonka described the fundraising for the sports complex as “promising,” but said the non-profit group wasn’t able to discuss those details yet. Potential donors, he said, want to see the project move closer to being shovel-ready before publicly announcing any financial commitments. The support from West Melbourne to do “all of the stuff that is not exciting, but is absolutely necessary,” like drainage, water and sewer line connections, are key to getting the project ready to built, Zonka said. “They have committed again and again and again to get this thing through,” he said.

Written by Susanne Cervenka FLORIDA TODAY

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