Friendly Oaks to close doors

The Friendly Oaks clubhouse, a gathering place in the town of Mineral for people with developmental disabilities, is scheduled to close at the end of the year.

Region Ten, the agency that operates the facility, decided the program did not figure into plans for a new building in the town of Louisa.

“In order to help finance the cost of this building project, the decision was made to sell the Friendly Oaks property,” Joanna Jennings, a Region Ten spokesperson, said.

Clients, some of whom have spent weekdays at the clubhouse for many years, reacted with dismay to the news. 

“We’re family, but it looks like they’re breaking our family up,” Norman Powell said last week as he sat with other clients on couches in the clubhouse’s main space. “Why do they want to close it? It makes me angry.”

Agency leaders are working to find new places for Friendly Oaks clients to socialize, but they are likely to be much further from their Louisa County homes. Powell said he had an interview scheduled last week with a facility in the town of Culpeper, an hour’s drive away. It’s unclear if he’ll be permitted to go there.

Jennings said attendance at the clubhouse has been in decline “for some time.”  

“One factor for this is likely the lack of supportive housing options as consumers age, which for many ultimately results in being relocated to Charlottesville,” she said.

The agency will ask the Louisa Town Council on Aug. 20 to rezone 1.5 acres at the corner of McDonald and Elm streets to commercial use so the nonprofit agency can build its new Louisa center. In recent years most local staff have operated in the basement of the Louisa Medical Service Center. Staff say interaction with clients has been difficult in the current space because of cramped conditions.

Central Virginia Health Services, which operates the wellness center in the Sage Building on Jefferson Highway (Rt. 33), would pay Region Ten an upfront fee of $1.5 million to rent one floor of the new building, according to the board minutes. Region Ten also applied for a federal community development block grant of up to $700,000 to help fund the building.

In a report to Louisa County officials last fall, Region Ten said that the new building would be a “clinic and psychosocial rehabilitation center.” Psychosocial rehabilitation is the service provided to Friendly Oaks clients, according to the agency’s website.  

The idea behind the clubhouse is for people with mental health issues to gain social skills and increase their involvement in the community. While clients socialize with each other and with Region Ten staff, they also take field trips to go shopping and to destinations like Louisa County Resource Council’s food bank. 

Cathy Portner, the resource council’s office manager, said she wishes Region Ten would find a way to keep Friendly Oaks open.

“Several of them have come up here and dealt well with the public,” she said. “There’s one in particular who was really shy when she first came, and now she gives us hugs and talks to us. So I think it’s really helped her socially.”

“We’re just one big, happy family,” Nichole Franklin, a Friendly Oaks client, said. “We all support each other. We’ve gotten to know one another, hanging out outside and going different places. One of the hardest things for us is that we won’t be able to do that anymore.” 

Jennings said some Friendly Oaks clients may be able to transition to Region Ten’s Blue Ridge clubhouse in Charlottesville, which has a similar mission.

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