TALLADEGA -- Union Village, a collaboration between the Presbyterian Home for Children and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, held a dedication and ribbon cutting Wednesday morning. The development consists of safe, affordable housing for deaf, blind and deaf/blind adults seeking to live independently. The first two units are complete, and one is already occupied; the full development will eventually provide independent living for 42 individuals.

Each of the homes will be 495 square feet, fully compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act and includes zero step entry, minimal thresholds, 9-foot ceilings, zero barrier showers and other amenities designed for those who are deaf or blind. According to the program for Wednesday’s ceremony, “Union Village residents will also have access to wrap-around supportive services, such as employment opportunities, advocacy, transportation, meal delivery, support groups and more.”

Union Village sits on 4 acres of land on Chaffee Street. In addition to the houses, the development will also include walkways, gardens and picnic areas.

The nominal rents will go toward the Presbyterian Home’s core ministry.

Jim Bob Rutlin is the first resident of Union Village. 

“This is a true story,” he said Wednesday. “There was a guy who worked at Industries for the Blind, and one morning he went to get himself a cup of coffee. He heard three pops, and when he went to sit down, he found bullet holes in his chair. I don’t know why he hasn’t moved yet. But like I told Dr. (John) Mascia (president of AIDB), my independence means everything to me. It means more to me than anybody knows.”

Mascia invoked Helen Keller, who said: “’Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’ This is an example of that, of neighborhood solutions, of talking through solutions. This is how we help make people’s lives better. Helen Keller also said ‘One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.’ We want to make it possible to soar for everyone we serve, for them to be independent and achieve personal success, whether they are climbing a mountain or living in their own home.”

The new houses are the result of a long collaboration between AIDB and the Presbyterian Home, and all of the speakers Wednesday spoke of the importance of that collaboration.

Presbyterian Home President Doug Marshall saw providence in the Presbyterian Home locating next to AIDB in Talladega more than 150 years ago. (Former Presbyterian Home president) Mark Howard listened to that still small voice of God, and put us on a solid footing.” Howard proposed the partnership with Mascia, and brought forth a vision of “safe, affordable housing now happening before our eyes.”

Howard, currently the executive director of Ouachita Children’s Center, said he was impressed with Mascia after their first meeting, and wanted to find a way to collaborate. 

“The question was, as neighbors, what could we do? How can the Presbyterian Home be a good neighbor to our friends across the street?” Howard said. “They have a need, and we have the ability to help. Not helping would not just be a sin, but a tragedy. They needed safe, affordable housing, close to services. I went to that first meeting, expecting five or six people, and there were 30. The next meeting was with AIDB staff, board members and clients, and they filled up a conference room. First, I knew they were serious, and second, I thought I probably should have brought back up.”

For a while, Howard said, things bogged down over concerns about utilities and other issues, but these were eventually resolved, and he took an agreement to his board of directors, who embraced the project. The city of Talladega also helped the project along. The initial seed money, as well as well as the name of the development, came from Union Presbyterian Church in Ozark. An even more substantial donation came in later from the sale of Presbyerian Manor Apartments in Tarrant, which brought in some $300,000.

“From the time this project was set in motion to fruition has been nothing short of miraculous,” Howard said. “It has been a privilege to be a part of this process.”

Donte Little, director of AIDB’s Talladega Regional Center, cited Psalm 133, saying “’How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’”