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Morgan's Story

Tri-Cities Journal of Business and MLS

By Katie Harris


Every Wednesday, Morgan Sams, 20, makes dinner for her family.


Choosing a recipe, shopping for ingredients and cooking a meal are accomplishments the Southridge High School student is proud of. When Sams was two, she was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delays, a form of Autism. But the young woman doesn’t let the disability slow her down, instead she takes every opportunity to learn new life skills.


Sams is just one of many local adults with developmental disabilities who Modern Living Services, a nonprofit organization started two years ago to build housing and provide services for developmentally disabled adults, hopes to help.


The group’s primary focus now is looking for a site to build a housing complex for 18 developmentally disabled adults and applying for government grants to pay for the project.


The group is currently considering two properties for the complex. One is a 5-acre site on Volland Street, near Winco Foods, listed at $762,000, which is residentially zoned and within walking distance of public transportation and shopping. The second is a 1.6-acre property on Kennewick Avenue, near other single- and multi-family housing, and close to a bus stop, shopping, banking and medical services. It is listed at $173,500.


Neither of the properties is under contract yet, said Sherry Sams, Morgan Sams’ mother and the organization’s treasurer. She said the nonprofit hopes to apply for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding in November to help pay for land acquisition and housing construction.


“What would be really helpful for us is finding donated land,” Sams said.


The local community has a substantial need for housing, job training and other services for developmentally disabled adults, she said. Benton and Franklin counties are the most underserved in the state, with only 1.7 percent of developmentally disabled adults receiving designated housing, she said.


Terry Buck, a case manager with the Department of Social and Health Services Division of Developmental Disabilities in Kennewick, said he has one of the largest caseloads in the state.


Buck said he handles 895 clients out of the roughly 2,500 clients in Benton and Franklin counties.


“We’re hoping to serve the most needy of the needy,” he said.


Developmentally disabled adults, like Morgan Sams, can only remain in high school until they turn 21. Then they must look for a job if they can work, and decide whether to live on their own or stay with their parents.


Sherry Sams said she hopes Morgan will eventually be able to have her own apartment in a supported living complex.


But many aren’t lucky enough to have a choice.


About 60 percent of Buck’s clients stay with their parents. While many of the rest live with relatives or friends or on their own, Buck has a handful of clients who couch surf or stay at the Union Gospel Mission. It is impossible to know how many more are homeless, he added.


"There’s such a lack of housing in the Tri-Cities for low-income (people) that it presents a huge problem for my developmentally disabled clients, because they are on a low income,” he said. “Some of them work, but a lot of them don’t.”


Modern Living Services has hired Sheryldene Rogers, the director of the residential development division at Goodale and Barbieri in Spokane, as a consultant on its housing project and application for HUD funds.


Once the notice of funding availability is published this month, MLS has 60 days to file the application. It will be another three to six months before funding recipients are announced. If MLS does receive federal funding, construction could start as soon as a year later.


Once the first housing projects are completed, MLS will have credibility that will drive them on to future projects, Rogers said.


James Stenkamp, a Richland architect, is under contract to design the two facilities.


Rogers said each building would include nine independent living units, a manager’s unit and common areas.


"It’s designed to give (residents) as much independence as possible,” she said.


Sams said employment is also a concern for the developmentally disabled, especially since local organizations like Columbia Industries and Goodwill Industries have reached their capacities. MLS hopes to offer continued education and vocational training in addition to that which CI and Goodwill offers.


When her daughter graduates next year, Sherry Sams said, she is hoping to continue her part-time job at the Tri-Cities Food Bank.


"She needs a lot of supervision, so it is not a paid job,” she said, “but it is significant for her to learn to follow directions and stay on task, and there are wonderful staff there that work with her and appreciate her strengths. These skills are needed to be accepted into a work-training program, with the possibility for paid work at some point.”


Sherry Sams started a support group for moms of developmentally disabled children about five years ago. Their group approached the Arc of Tri-Cities and the Shalom Ecumenical Center for help with a housing project. SEC already has experience providing housing for low-income disabled and elderly adults at Tri-Cities Terrace South, West and East in Richland.


MLS’ vision of providing housing and services was more than the Arc and the SEC wanted to take on, but the groups still expressed their support.


So MLS was incorporated in February 2009 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and more parents joined the fledgling group.


MLS now has a 15-member board, which is more than she ever expected, Sherry Sams said. Board members include other parents, case managers like Buck and a special education professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities.“


The Modern Living Services group is just phenomenally good,” Buck said. “I love working with them and their mission is right in line with what I perceive as something that our community needs and we should embrace that mission and really work hard to make it reality.”


For more information about MLS, call 947-8633 or visit

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