Birch Lane complex offers independence, support

Birch Tree Communities, a certified, nonprofit program that offers support and assistance to adults with mental health disease, recently opened the Birch Lane Apartments for members of its New Beginnings program.
The supervised living complex, which consists of 10 units, was completed mid-April and residents began moving in May 1. Each apartment is one unit of a duplex; each 560-square-foot home includes a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, according to Sandy White, Birch Tree associate director of program.
New Beginnings is a separate, dual-diagnosis program that serves adults with severe mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
"Both the mental health field and the developmental disabilities field have a shared mission — to help people with disabilities live successful lives in the community," said Natasha Deal, New Beginnings branch director.
True to its mission, the developers of the complex strategically planned the new community on Alcoa to provide access to shopping, banking and business.
New Beginnings members began meeting in a house on Alcoa Road in the summer of 2011.
"When we first met with the flagship members of this program, we filled our giant whiteboard with dreams, goals, plans, and ideas," Deal said. "The members drove the discussion, and their desires are responsible, more than any other factor, for our first blueprint of the program and for the revisions and improvements since."
According to Deal, they named the program New Beginnings because it is a chance to start fresh out of the hospital or another medical facility.
"It is an opportunity to do things they had never been able to do before, such as shop for themselves, live in the community, get jobs and learn how to manage their own money," Deal said.
The Birch Lane apartments were built through a HUD 811 Housing Grant for Adults with Disabilities. Prior to its existence, the members would come from their home at one of the other Birch Tree branches each day and return at night.
"Most of our members were starting out with very little — if any —independent living skills," Deal said. "Many, but not all, of their personal goals on individual plans of care mirrored the ones the group came up with together at the start of our break-away program. We wanted our program to be a community, a resource and a support for them to work on these shared goals together, building on each other’s successes, while also helping them in their individual pursuits."