'Love' for People with Disabilities

'Love' for People with Disabilities

Tennis tournament will raise funds for church respite center.

Laura Carter can't even imagine taking a week's vacation. "It's just not clicking in my head," said Carter, a Vienna resident. "I can't even get a hold of the idea real well."

Carter's 16-year-old son, Ross, has multiple disabilities, making it difficult to care for him. When Carter and her husband had to take off three days to take their older son to college, finding the proper caregiver for Ross was a chore. "It took me three months to work out arrangements for three days," Carter said. "We need good health care, and people think it's out there, but it's not."

Diane Anderson hopes to fill that void. She is president of Access Center Inc., which is planning to open a respite center next to McLean Bible Church on Leesburg Pike, north of Tysons Corner. "There's nothing like it in the United States," Anderson said.

The center, which Anderson hopes will open in 2006, would provide care for children with disabilities for a weekend, or even up to a week. "It's really intended to give [parents] a weekend," Anderson said.

These getaways would mean a lot to families like Carter's. She has two other children who do not have disabilities. While they love their brother, she sometimes wants or needs to take them places without him. "We take our son Ross everywhere we possibly can, but some places, it's just not appropriate," Carter said.

FAMILIES WITH children with disabilities face stresses which others do not, Anderson said. "The divorce rate of families with kids with disabilities is 80 percent," she said. It was that statistic that really crystallized the idea behind opening an extended-care facility. "What can we do to hold these families together and strengthen the community?" Anderson said.

The design calls for a 47,000-square-foot facility on five acres, which were donated by McLean Bible Church. "We'll be able to have 70 children [at a time], newborn up to adult," Anderson said.

The church already provides some services, which are all available to non-church members also [see sidebar]. This center, after it is open, will be completely independent of the church, Anderson said.

Plans for the center include amenities such as a bowling alley, movie theater and gymnasium, Anderson said. "The design of this is really like a fun hotel."

Carter has seen the plans and is impressed by the detail. "The lengths they're going to to make it a lovely place is unreal," she said.

In addition to the fun parts, the center includes a dental clinic and a hair salon. Some people with disabilities have difficulty finding such services to accommodate their needs. "Those things that are pretty difficult if you have sensory issues," Anderson said. "They're really sensitive about people touching them."

The center will also offer therapy sessions at no or little cost to people staying there. The therapy service will also be available to families who are not using the center for a stay. Anderson also has plans for a preschool program.

The charge for staying at the center will work on a sliding scale according to the family's ability to pay, Anderson said.

THE CENTER, which will operate as a nonprofit, will cost millions to build, and is largely being raised by donations. The price tag prompted an idea for the "Love-All Invitational" tennis tournament to raise funds for its construction.

Spencer Kooshian, a tennis pro at the Burke Racquet and Swim Club, is coordinating the event at the club. When Kooshian's wife was pregnant, prenatal tests made it seem that their child would have developmental disabilities. "He was diagnosed as having two cysts on the brain and his kidneys," Kooshian said.

The diagnosis turned out to be incorrect, and the boy was born in good health, but Kooshian's outlook had changed. "I just felt moved to really get involved," he said.

He called some of his friends from the pro tennis circuit to try to get them to play in a tournament, and he was able to attract some high-caliber players. "The prerequisite is you either have to be world-ranked right now or have been world-ranked," Kooshian said.

He was able to attract 16 doubles teams — 32 players — to play for the $10,000 purse. Some top names include Richey Reneberg, Tim Wilkerson, Carl Clark and Dexter MacBride, Kooshian said. "Obviously, there's some really high quality."