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Friendship Ark completes fifth home with help from friends

House for people with disabilities built by deacon and team

AMES — The completion of a fifth house serving the community of Ames doesn’t seem like a giant milestone, but for its five new residents, it’s a dream come true.

Five members of Friendship Ark Homes and Community Services will be living as a family in a shiny new house of their own. They will have 24/7 caregivers who, according to the mission statement, “cele­brate the uniqueness of adults with intellectual disabilities by providing homes and community services. They help core members reach their fullest potential through faith, family and friendship.”

It takes a town and a team to manage such a vision. No one can do such a big job alone. But that is where St. Cecilia Parish stepped into the vision with retired builder Deacon Alan Christy and his wife, Mary.

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“I enjoy building things,” said Deacon Christy, “I always have. Even as a kid on the farm, I enjoyed going out to the men who were building a silo for Dad and would help hammer in the 60 penny nails. The carpenter would start a few nails for me, and I would drive them home after 50 or 60 swings of the hammer. Later, as I was looking for meaning in my life, I discovered a desire to become part of something bigger than myself.”

After a stint in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, Deacon Christy came home to Iowa and found a job with H&F builders in Ames building homes. He joined the Catholic Church, began a family, and continued to build homes over the landscape of Story County.

After seven years of supervising, organizing and connecting with people through volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, one morning Deacon Christy overheard a conversation as he was having breakfast in Country Kitchen with his family. A new nonprofit was being formed in Ames. It was to be called Friendship Ark and was to serve people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Five houses later, with a waiting list of over 20 people, the homes of Friendship Ark have enabled disabled residents of Ames a place to live like those in the rest of the community live—in a home of one’s own. With wide hallways, floor-level showers to accommodate wheelchair users, tile floors, and large bedrooms for additional personal belongings, five core members are able to live in each home with a caregiver who helps wherever needed. The care they receive is 24/7 and can include help with making meals, getting into their beds and showers, or help navigating bus routes around town.

The organization employs over 50 full- and part-time staff whose mission is to encourage a person-centered focus with an emphasis on independence for the members who they care for.

Adam Christy, son of Mary and Deacon Alan, lives in one of the Friendship Ark homes. Born with Down syndrome, his dad said, “Adam is a more effective minister than I am. There are many caregivers who attend Iowa State, and I believe that when they leave after graduation, they are made better parents for having worked at Friendship Ark.

“And many of them have never forgotten taking care of Adam. He gets cards and gifts on his birthday, sometimes a past caregiver will stop in to see him whenever they are in Ames. It’s amazing the impact working there has on people.”

And the impact goes two ways. House No. 5 began with a $50,000 gift from the estate of Paul and Irene Klingseis, deceased members of St. Cecilia Church in Ames. When Deacon Christy told the sub-contractors and the builders he has worked with over the years about the project, many of them donated their time, talents, and even the treasure of a poured concrete foundation.

“These are professionals,” said Deacon Christy, “all I had to do was send out an email, and I was taken with how willing all of them were to help with the project. Friendship Ark is in a great position to succeed for the foreseeable future at least partly because of the generosity of all the subcontractors and the volunteers.”

Besides the initial seed money of $50,000 from the Klingseis estate, a variety of donors from the Ames community gave over $100,000. With over 26 referrals from people on the waiting list, the need for more homes or other places that allow the disabled to live with dignity and freedom of choice will continue to be needed.

The house pictured above was recently completed by Deacon Alan Christy, of St. Cecilia Parish in Ames; his wife; and a team of people involved with Friendship Ark Homes and Community Services. (Contributed photo)