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Health Sentinel: Goal of home ownership now a reality for man with Down syndrome

Monday, April 22, 2013 - 12:01 am

The day was brisk but sunny as I drove to Carl Nuffer's home on the city's far north side.

I barely knocked once when he opened the door and said, “Welcome to my home.” He asked if I'd like to take a tour. Nuffer moved into the newly-constructed home in late fall of 2012, and his face beamed with the pride of first-time home ownership.

“This is my kitchen,” he pointed out. A bird sat quietly in its cage near the dinette area. The kitchen was shiny and kempt. “Here's my living room and here's my bedroom,” he said, leading the way into the first of two bedrooms.

On the wall was a framed picture of Nuffer and the Taylor University-Fort Wayne basketball team, which he helped manage. He audited classes and was involved in various campus activities at the now-closed college, which named him an honorary member of the graduating class of 2004.

By all appearances, Nuffer, 31, was settled into his new home, complete with a fully-equipped Man Cave in what was built as the garage. As we chatted about his love of ballroom dancing and other interests, he picked up a fuzzy brown teddy bear that had been propped up on the bed pillows. He gave the obviously well-loved bear a squeeze, a gesture that was a reminder he is not your typical bachelor living in a bachelor pad.

Nuffer has Down syndrome.

That disability has never deterred his parents, Pat and Rick Nuffer of Fort Wayne, from encouraging their son to set goals and to work hard to achieve them. Pat Nuffer praises inclusion policies that today allow students such as Carl to attend regular classes and to rub shoulders in school and in the community with a spectrum of peers, not just with others who have disabilities.

“We've always maintained that his ticket to a meaningful life is not based on his academics but on his behavior and social skills,” Pat says. “We've stressed that the social expectations need to be high, that to be typical you need to be socially and age appropriate.”

An easy friend-maker, Carl's social skills blossomed during his high school years at Blackhawk Christian. He learned to use the bus while in school and is now in his eighth year of employment at the Parkview Y.

Carl lived with his parents until 2007, when his name was finally at the top of the waiting list for government-subsidized housing. That year, he moved into a two-bedroom apartment.

His younger brother, Fritz, lived with him for a time until Fritz headed to college. Without a roommate, Carl had to move into a small one-bedroom apartment because of the cost. But after a couple of years, he was ready for more space so he could host his weekly Bible study and have friends over for movies and pizza.

So the Nuffers began exploring potential home ownership for Carl. With assistance three days a week from Deb Elliott, an Easter Seals Arc direct support professional, Carl had proved he could live alone. Elliott coaches Carl on home- and life-management skills, such as grocery shopping, planning healthy menus and setting daily goals.

The Nuffers found help toward the goal of Carl being a homeowner through a program managed by the Fort Wayne Housing Authority. The Pathfinders Community Connections program offers a financial education class Carl was required to take before he could be approved for the home ownership program. Additional hurdles also had to be cleared.

“He had to have credit to buy a home,” Pat says. Carl's name was added to his parents' credit card, and, in the ensuing months, he developed his own credit rating.

The big question was location. Carl needed to have access to the bus and be close to work. Ideally, his parents wanted him to live within a few minutes of their home. They found a housing addition where new condos were being built and which met all their criteria. The addition is targeted for people 55 and older, but a small percentage can be under 55.

The Nuffers worked with Ruoff Mortgage to secure Carl's mortgage. The downpayment came from a college fund Carl's grandparents gave to their grandchildren. Carl worked closely with his Pathfinders financial counselor to complete the course. By summer 2012, his house was under construction. When the mortgage was signed, only Carl's name was on it, no co-signers.

The process was quite challenging at times, Pat says of helping her son take this next important step of independence. But it was also gratifying and fulfilling. The Nuffers hope other parents and their children with developmental disabilities will aim high for the future. Too often parents get entrenched in preparing their children for independence, Pat says.

“Parents want their children to learn certain skills before they gain independence. But they “learn what they need to learn” when parents let go.

“I'm not going to be around forever,” she says. “My job is to prepare Carl to live in the community — and to prepare the community for him.”

This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.