Realtors Give Back to Adults with Autism


Written by: Owen Skoler on June 3, 2011 


Debbie Lewis always hoped her son would have a chance at independent living, but she knew it was a long shot.

Her son Timothy, 18, of Eureka, has autism. He lacks social skills, cannot read, write or drive, and can sometimes be aggressive.

But thanks to Keller Williams-St. Louis, located in Kirkwood, Timothy has something not every 18 year old can lay claim to: his own home.

The real estate office recently finished rehabbing a property in Marlborough. Soon, Timothy and two other young men with autism will move into the residence, where they will receive 24-7 support from TouchPoint Autism Services.

The rehab effort was part of Keller Williams’ nationwide Red Day initiative, in which every year, agents tackle a volunteer project the second Thursday in May.

“The idea at Keller Williams is to give back to the community where you live,” said Teri Nicely, a Kirkwood agent who helped head the office’s Red Day committee.

Keller Williams’ preferred vendors provided new cabinets, light fixtures, furniture and landscaping for the home, and the agency raised money for repairs through fundraising events, Nicely said.

Renovation on the Marlborough home had been ongoing but during the Red Day initiative, a host of agents turned out to help put the finishing touches on the property that had holes in the walls, torn up carpet and many other signs of wear.

The real estate agency held an open house for the property earlier this week. As agents filed in, the house filled with “Ooh” after “Ahh,” and, “I can’t believe this is the same house!”

“It’s perfect,” Lewis said.

TouchPoint has about 30 homes in the St. Louis area for individuals on the autism spectrum. They are nestled in well-maintained communities.

“In this kind of setting they can be part of a community,” said Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint. “It’s so much better than 30 or 40 years ago when they would be put in state-run institutions and isolated from the community.”

A wave of adults who didn’t receive early intervention autism therapy now needs housing, according to Ekstrand.

“Housing like this provides choice and dignity,” Ekstrand said, adding that it also saves taxpayers money. According to the CEO, it costs 40 percent less for an individual on Medicaid or social security disability to live in a home like the one rehabbed by Keller Williams than a state-run institution.

“It costs less; it’s more humane; residents have a richer fuller life,” Ekstrand said. “It’s what everyone wants. It’s every parent’s dream for his or her child to grow up and live on their own.”

Providing Timothy and his new roommates a top-notch, fully updated, partially furnished home would not have been possible without the efforts of Keller Williams, according to Ekstrand. Although TouchPoint receives money from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the organization is not reimbursed for renovation expenses by the department.

Lewis believes her son will respond well to the new living environment.

“I think it will all gel,” she said. “Demands will be made on him and he will be expected to grow.”

Timothy will learn to follow through on what may seem like minor chores for most but can be challenging for the 18 year old. These include putting laundry in the dryer, putting away dishes and grocery shopping.

The location of Timothy’s new home couldn’t be more ideal. He attends Southview, one of the schools that’s part of the St. Louis County’s Special School District, and will continue there until he’s 21. The Crestwood school is less than four miles from his new home.

After Timothy graduates, Lewis hopes he will secure a job. “I don’t care what he does, as long as he’s happy,” she said.

With the many developmental challenges Timothy faces, it’s unclear what his future holds. One thing that is clear, however, is that thanks to the office of Keller Williams, he has a place in Marlborough to call home.