Parent Pathways

Parent Pathways: Cary man helps raise money for adults with special needs

September 23, 2013 

Lou Giambalvo with his daughter, Gianna.

COURTESY OF LOU GIAMBALVO

Nearly eight years ago, when his daughter was 10, Lou Giambalvo of Cary started thinking about where his daughter would go after high school – and beyond.

A lot of parents let their kids figure that out for themselves. But Giambalvo’s daughter Gianna, now 18 and a junior at Green Hope High School, has Down syndrome.

“We’ve always been looking for a housing solution,” Giambalvo said of himself and his wife, Esther. “We’ve visited many (homes) all over the United States. Every one that we’ve visited was very expensive – anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 a month for these residents to live. So we had to come up with a solution that was affordable.”

In 2005, Giambalvo started a golf tournament to raise money for housing possibilities for adults with special needs.

In the early years, Giambalvo spent the nights before the tournaments calling to persuade people to register.

This year, the eighth annual HopeSpring Village Charity Golf Tournament is already full, due in large part to the growing list of sponsors that provide meals, drinks, entertainment, swag bags and gifts for a silent auction. The event takes place Saturday, Oct. 5, at The Preserve at Jordan Lake Golf Club in Chapel Hill.

Even better, Giambalvo’s vision is starting to materialize with the help of Duke Divinity School and Reality Ministries in Durham.

This month was the official ribbon-cutting for the HopeSpring Village Friendship Houses of Durham, modeled after a similar program in Michigan. Each home has eight bedrooms; six rooms are rented to graduate students from Duke’s Divinity School, and the other two rooms are reserved for high-functioning special-needs adults.

Each home has a resident adviser who oversees logistics like locking up every night and keeping special-needs residents on schedule. Parents are also involved in care aspects.

Duke is considering paying the advisers’ rent through a stipend from Duke Divinity School, and the rent for the special-needs residents is less than $450 a month. It’s a good partnership and an innovative concept of independent living with assistance.

“The thinking here is the students are a perfect match to be with our special-needs residents because they’re going to be working in the community so they should have an awareness and understanding of what the needs are,” Giambalvo said.

“We want to see how this model works for the next two years and that will allow us to save more money. Our goal is to put up homes next to each college in North Carolina,” he added.

Giambalvo has raised about $250,000 through the golf tournaments since 2006.

He hopes the next Friendship House might have a spot for Gianna, who talks about moving out one day.

“She feels good that she has a place to go. And that was my goal eight years ago,” Giambalvo said. “What could I do as a parent to not only help my kid and her future but other families who have similar needs?”

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