Published January 20, 2015
Volume 23, Number 1

Sunflower Hill Supports Special Needs Adults
Sunflower Hill

By Zoe Francis

Adulthood can be particularly daunting for children with autism and their parents.
Sunflower Hill, a local nonprofit driven by dedicated parents, aims to ease families’ concerns with an annual symposium and ultimately building communities for special needs adults.
“Sunflower Hill is an organization with the goal to create a sustainable residential community akin to senior living,” Susan Houghton, founder and board president, said. “We refer to it as an intentional community because we’re intentionally trying to replicate all the benefits that come with senior living.”
The upstart nonprofit, founded just three years ago, hopes got a substantial boost with the anticipated donation of land in Pleasanton.
“We’re very excited about it,” Houghton said. “We think it will be able to house about 30 individuals with special needs.”
The first community will cost roughly $12 million to develop, so Sunflower Hill board members will search for funding through loans, tax credits, grants and a fundraising campaign.
“When we started, we thought we were pretty novel,” Houghton said. “What we didn’t know is that there is a whole movement to create intentional communities because families across the nation, just like us, are upset that there are so few options.”
An estimated 79 communities for special needs adults have been built or soon will be built nationwide.
Sunflower Hill communities would offer more than safe, friendly environments for adults with special needs, such as those with autism or Down syndrome.
“It’s really about creating a quality of life,” she said. “We’re really trying to create vocational options for our kids, as well as a residential community.”
The Sunflower Hill founders also realize families need help as they navigate new territory when their children turn 18 and eventually age out of public school options.
“One of the things that happens when your child turns 18 is you get hit with all these things you have to do,” Houghton said. “Everything in your life changes. It’s an overwhelming issue for parents to make sure they’re doing everything right.”
Thus, Sunflower Hill is offering its second annual special needs planning symposium, a half-day event on January 31 at Las Positas College.
“This conference tells you what you need to do to make sure your kids get the maximum public benefits that they deserve without hurting their future,” she said. “It’s basically telling parents, step by step, what they need to do and be aware of once they have an 18-year-old.”
Parents should, for instance, establish special needs trusts for children to safeguard their money.
“It’s learning these tricks that will save everybody peace of mind,” she said. “This was overwhelmingly popular (last year). It’s very beneficial for parents to understand what they need to be aware of.”
Statistics show that one in 68 people have autism, a rate that ensures almost everyone knows a person how has or is affected by autism.
“The need for this is tremendous,” Houghton said. Supporting Sunflower Hill “is a way of giving back and helping people enrich their lives who are not going to be able to do so otherwise.”
Learn more about Sunflower Hill or make a donation at sunflowerhill.org. Click on Events for more information about and to register for the Jan. 31 symposium.


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