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Votes

Supervisors Approve Respite Center for McLean Bible Church

There were some verbal contradictions during testimony at a Board of Supervisors hearing on whether McLean Bible Church should build a 70-bed respite center where children with severe disabilities can stay overnight to give their parents a rest.

Two different speakers, one adamantly opposed and one passionately in favor of the respite center, both praised Dranesville supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn as a man who “always takes the high road,” entreating him to vote their way.

“People who are accusing the church of lying, including taking out newspaper ads, need to be the ones to take the high road,” Mendelsohn said, after asking the Board to approve the respite center.

They did, by a unanimous 10-0 vote.

ANOTHER CONTRADICTION occurred in the lobby outside the boardroom of the Fairfax County Government Center, where Mary Jane Sufficool watched the hearing on a television with her son, Bart. Like some normal adults, Bart was too restless to keep quiet in the boardroom, as about 20 speakers addressed the land-use issue surrounding location of the respite center on the Bible Church’s property on Route 7 at Lewinsville Road.

“He’s good. He’s a challenge,” she said.

Asked how old he is, they answered in unison with contradictory responses:

“23,” said Mary Jane Sufficool.

“15,” said Bart, the first autistic student to graduate from Langley High School last year.

Because Bart suffers from succinct semialdehyude degydrogenase deficiency, his mother said, it was 22 years before she and her husband took time away. Last year, after Bart graduated, they went on a trip to Alaska.

She said supervisors and opponents of the center have to “walk the walk” of caring for a special-needs child.

“It’s just so stressful,” said Sufficool, of McLean. “It’s 24/7 forever.”

A respite center would serve families in Northern Virginia who love their special-needs children and want to care for them at home but need a break once in a while.

“It’s important for the children. It’s important for the families, too.

“The need is so desperate,” Sufficool said.

ED DAVIS, the president of the Shouse Village Homeowners Association, urged the Board to approve the respite center. He said the Shouse HOA had turned down a request for support from homeowner associations at Wolf Trap Woods and Wolf Den, which surround the potential site of the respite center.

“We concluded that the respite center should not be held hostage,” Davis said.

“I only see benefits to people who could use your support.”

Sharon Sullivan, 51, recited her years of effort to get respite care from government agencies for her son, Danny. “Whenever Danny is home, I am housebound,” she said, because he bolts and can’t be taken in public because he might harm himself.

After years of effort, she said, the family finally got approval for 37 hours of in-home support.

“My husband [and I] decided to go away and celebrate our wedding anniversary, which we had never done,” she said.

“When I came home, Danny had been abused, and the other two children were witnesses to it.”

Though it was too late to help her family, she said, “I’m just here to testify that there is a substantive need in this county” for respite care.

McLean Bible Church, she said, “actually helps.”

“There is probably no more of a pro-family vote that you will ever see than the one that is before you,” said McLean Bible Church Access Ministry volunteer Ken Holmes.

“When you look beyond the diagnosis, you see the child.”

The parent of one child with “relatively mild disabilities” said that when she and her husband heard about McLean Bible Church’s Friday night “breakout” sessions, where parents can leave their children at the church for a few hours. “We started to cry,” she said. “We could go out on a date.”

Marisa Laios, who described herself as “a child with mild cerebral palsy,” testified from her wheelchair. She told about how her mother, recently divorced, had cared for her as a child.

“Mama was on her own,” said Laios. “She had to find an apartment.

“She had to get a job. She had to get me dressed and get me ready for school and get me on the school bus. On Mondays, she had to get off work at 1 p.m. to meet the school bus.”

Now grown, Laios said she works with special-needs children herself.

“Until you actually deal with these disabilities, until you actually set foot in the door,” she said, “you don’t know what it’s like.

“Someday it could be you,” she said, but without programs like McLean Bible Church’s, “no one would be here for you.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley said she had received 873 letters supporting the respite center and 120 that either oppose it or asked for more time to evaluate the impact of the existing church structure.

“I think we’ve all agreed on the need for a facility like this,” Hanley said.

“And you know what? This is an appropriate place. If you can’t put a facility like this on a six-lane road, where would you put it?”

The “special needs center” will provide respite care for children with disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, and other physical and developmental disabilities.

“Virginia ranks very low in funding mental health needs,” said Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R).

“Unless the faith community helps us out, we have a big problem.”

“This is a church that puts its money where its mouth is,” said Gerry Connolly (D-Providence).

“The proffers are tight,” said Penny Gross (D-Mason), “and will serve to protect the neighbors.

“I do not want to see another application from McLean Bible Church where we don’t have an understanding between the neighbors and the church,” she said.