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Facility for Autistic Adults Is Planned for Suwanee

A Gwinnett couple will run a day-program operation that will teach life skills to special-needs adults.

A facility for young adults with autism soon could be in operation in Suwanee. A Gwinnett couple has applied for rezoning of their newly acquired property on Lawrenceville-Suwanee road so they can operate a day program to instruct special needs adults.

New Directions Georgia is a non-profit that is the work of Michael and Mary O'Connell, and they are not new to helping people with autism. .

The O'Connells recently moved to the Suwanee property to live, and the rezoning would be to allow the dwelling also to be used to impart life skills to as many as 18 adults. Approval could come at the August City Council meeting, and the facility could be operating by October.

"... so many of the young adults with autism who are out of the school system at 22, have nowhere to go during the day."

-- Mary O'Connell

Michael O'Connell explained that the operation is aimed at "taking people who are just out of school to the next level. We will try to focus on young adults just out of high school."

New Directions would seek to instruct the special-needs adults on life skills so that they "could find meaningful work at some point."

Mary O'Connell said Monday, "We started this program because so many of the young adults with autism who are out of the school system at 22, have nowhere to go during the day."

She added that "this is a beautiful piece of land and we will continue to perserve the natural beauty by working within the topgraphy of the property. We hope to include a garden, workshop and leisure area for the adults to participate group activities throughout the day."

Also in the plans for the Suwanee facility are kitchen and gardening skills, even to the extent of having a booth at the Suwanee Farmers Market so the autistic people could "collect dollars and make change," Michael O'Connell said.

Michael O'Connell noted that most such day-program facilities are in commercial buildings, and that the residential atmosphere of the Suwanee location is a huge plus.

"Suwanee has been great," he noted. "We've had nothing but very positive relations with planning and zoning and the people we've met."

For information on New Directions Georgia, email maryjoconnell@me.com.

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Mary August 21, 2012 at 02:37 PM
New Directions is excited to be a part of Suwanee. We look forward to opening our program in October. Thanks for a great article.
Steve Burns (Editor) August 21, 2012 at 02:49 PM
You are welcome, Mary. I know many people in Suwanee and Gwinnett will want to know more about your operation.
kim mitchell August 21, 2012 at 05:25 PM
I know Mary well, she has been a life-saver for those of us w/ children in the autism spectrum. Public school, and its attendant programs and services, ends for these children at 21. There is such a need for a program for these young adults, who can continue to live in their homes, but receive many of the life lessons they will now need to move on the the next level.
Claire Dees August 21, 2012 at 05:27 PM
One of the best things about living in Suwanee is the fact that those with different abilities are welcome. This will be a great service to families with young adults with autism and will enrich our community.
Don & Casey Fisher August 21, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Great article - keep us updated
Ashley Martin August 24, 2012 at 01:47 AM
This is so great! As a teacher of kids with autism, I know New Directions Georgia will bless so many lives. It's great to know there's a place for our kids to go once they graduate. Mike and Mary are doing an awesome thing.
Mary August 30, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Thanks to the city of Suwanee and the endless work of all our supporters, the New Directions property has been rezoned. We will now be able to plan and expand as needed. New Directions plans to open in October. The website is now up and running. Check it out at www.NewDirectionsForAutism.org Mary O'Connell

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