A nonprofit, self-sustaining residential community for adults with intellectual disabilities

To read on Inside Business website:

Virginia Beach woman wants to build community for people with disabilities

By Sandra J. Pennecke  September 20, 2016

residential community

Debra Dear sits in front of the Vanguard Farmhouse holding an architectural rendering for Vanguard Landing, a nonprofit, self-sustaining residential community for adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities planned for Virginia Beach

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Debra Dear is one of them.

She also wears the initials VGL on a necklace, bracelet and her license plate to show where her passion lies. Dear is the driving force behind Vanguard Landing, a nonprofit, self-sustaining residential community for adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities planned for Virginia Beach.

It’s a subject that hits close to home for Dear; her firstborn daughter, Lindsey, 34, has an intellectual disability.

“She’s an angel, the center of our family,” Dear said. “She makes me a better person.”

Dear’s name, as well as her heartfelt enthusiasm, is not unfamiliar to the city she’s called home since relocating from Mississippi in 1982. She was the powerhouse behind the original Kids Cove playground built by 5,128 volunteers over a five-day period in 1993.

A former teacher and administrator, Dear recounts her days in the Junior Women’s Club, PTA, Very Special Arts, and the Virginia Beach Community Services Board.

“They all gave me the training and the skills I needed for my special project,” said Dear who is driven by the pressing need for more options for the disabled.

Her vision for Vanguard Landing is moving along. A board of directors is in place, fundraising is in full force and parents are inquiring with letters of interest.

A huge hurdle was overcome in February 2014 when they purchased – with funds borrowed through the city at zero percent interest – a 75-acre parcel of land in the southern area of the city near Red Mill Commons.

Dear said she must have driven past the spot on Princess Anne Road millions of times from her nearby home in Heritage Park.

“I was looking for land for three years; I just about gave up,” Dear said.

But, nothing in Dear’s demeanor or fabric equate to giving up.

In fact, the name Vanguard was chosen because it means a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas.

“It shows strength, never being broken or knocked down,” Dear said with the sheer perseverance she’s known for.

There are 144,000 people in Virginia with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and Dear is determined to make a difference.

“They want to do stuff too. They want to have a life,” Dear said. “I say that people with disabilities are the most discriminated against group in the world; they always have been and always will be.”

But, that’s where Vanguard Landing comes in. It’s a community within a community filled with innovative, educational, vocational and recreational opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities to live, work and play.

Plans call for the community to serve 185 people, which includes residential cottages, an upcycling shop, restaurant, art and music center, pet day care, a garden for farming and market, equestrian center, cafeteria, and a sportsplex with a gym, multipurpose room and swimming pools. There will also be a student union, or gathering center, for continuing education classes, a mini movie theater, library, and a game room.

“Everything is designed with them in mind,” Dear said. “At the end of the day, a parent of an adult child who has a disability is no different from when they were little. We want to be sure they are safe, fulfilled and happy.”

Julie Harshaw is one of those parents.

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