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Gracepoint gifts senior residents with new home

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — When Mary Myles became program manager of The Graham Home 25 years ago, 30 adults with special needs occupied 65 square-foot apartments.

"It was tough on Mary when the place closed," said Gracepoint project manager Susan Morgan. "She'd be the one putting a bucket out when it leaked."

Today, a partnership between Gracepoint and DDA Development has brought about a suitable replacement for the senior living facility. The Graham reopened last month and now Mary Myles sits in a corner office on the same property, overlooking a community garden and lush landscape. The 80 residents now occupy 646 square-foot apartments.

No need for a bucket.

"We wanted to create something better for them," Myles said.

Gracepoint privately funded the project, the first affordable housing units Gracepoint built from the ground-up using low income housing tax credits and a loan from the state of Florida.

"Mary had been making do with nothing," said DDA Development manager and principal Bowen Arnold.

Letitia V. Graham donated the land, now valued at $3 million, 53 years ago in dedication to her late husband Edmund Gaines Graham. Upon her death in 1938, she instructed her will to build a home for seniors who had no means of support in Hillsborough County and establish a trust.

Though her kin contested her will in court, they lost and the land has been a haven for seniors ever since.

"It was rewarding to take on this project," Bowen said. "We just did a $45 million condominium project in St. Petersburg and used the same architect as we did for this project. Susan was really motivating. She went to every construction meeting and no one does that."

Prior to this project, Gracepoint was contributing costs that the Graham trust was unable to cover. However this past year, the trust exhausted its funds.

"We realized we could probably only continue like this for five years at the most," Morgan said. "Many of those folks had been there 20 years and the staff and residents were like family. I thought where would they go if this goes away? Around this time as well, my parents had passed and I had been taking care of my sister who has disabilities.

"I wasn't as motivated until it directly impacted my family, it shouldn't be like that but I'm glad it did happen."

Inspired, Morgan started to observe what others were doing, educated herself and traveled to Tallahassee.

After two years of planning and one year of construction The Graham's transformation was complete.

A three-story complex with 90 one and two bedroom apartments sits on more than four acres with amenities such as a fitness center, a library with computers, a clubhouse with a large screen television and coffee bar, a beauty salon, commercial kitchens, washers and dryers in the apartments, central heat and air, walk-in closets and a bicycle storage area.

Gracepoint also provides wrap-around services with case manager offices right next door, as well as primary health care services accessible across the street.

On the first floor is a store full of home decor, groceries and even a Keurig Coffee machine donated by churches, civic groups and Walmart.

Residents can volunteer to earn Graham bucks which can be used in the store.

Other donations benefited the interior of the apartments, which Morgan refers to as "adopted apartments," meaning individuals or groups donate the basic essentials so when the resident moves in, they are all set-up.

Residents of adopted apartments (there are 45 total) are greeted with a hand-written note from the donors.

"We need affordable housing on all levels," Morgan said. "When the state stops investing and creating opportunities for nonprofits and developers to partner together to build it, Florida will be in a dire state because you can't do well at work if you don't have stable housing, your health won't be well and stress can cause all kinds of issues."

Contact Arielle Waldman at awaldman@tampabay.com.

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