New Charles Lea Center Facility Helps Clients With Independent Living Skills

Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 at 3:36 p.m.

Zane Garrick can’t wait until June.

Confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, the 39-year-old will finally move into his first home.

Once there, he will be able to open and close doors, control the TV and lights, and cook by himself. He will live more independently than ever before.

“I’m excited,” Garrick said. “I want to be able to keep moving. I like being able to do things by myself.”

But before Garrick can make this big move, he has to acquire the skills needed to live on his own.

To do this, he is using a new 12,000-square-foot facility inside the Charles Lea Center.

With a simulated market, bank, restaurant, doctor’s and dentist’s office, apartment building and more, the Life Skills Center gives adults with special needs, like Garrick, hands-on experience with various real-life situations.

“They can practice things here and get good at them, so when they move into an apartment or home, they will already be familiar with everything,” said Dr. Jerry Bernard, executive director of the Charles Lea Center.

All of the environments were designed to look as real as possible. The lobby of the facility resembles an outdoor setting, with plant life and faux grass, streetlights and crosswalks. The bricks that seem to run up and down the walls are actually vinyl siding. A van is parked inside to let participants practice boarding and exiting a vehicle. It was donated by a local dealership.

The training rooms, including the grocery store, restaurant and bank, face the “outdoorsy” lobby area, which resembles a stretch of downtown businesses.

“We are trying to create a realistic idea of what downtown looks like,” Bernard said. “The whole idea here is to role-play a lot of things, like a simulation. The ones that work well are the ones that are realistic.”

The market area contains real groceries so the adults can practice shopping; the doctor’s office contains a waiting room, a dentist’s chair and a doctor’s chair. It’s designed to help people combat their fears and apprehension regarding going to the doctor or dentist.

Beside the restaurant, which resembles a Zaxby’s, an ATM machine is attached to the wall. While it doesn’t actually spit out money, “people can slide the card in and put in their number,” Bernard said. “Some of the things we do naturally, some of our folks need to be reminded.”

Those who use the facility can also get acquainted with some state-of-the-art technology by SimplyHome, a North Carolina-based company.

SimplyHome designs and installs wireless technology products geared toward the aging and disabled.

“This is where we are going,” said Jeff Ballenger, senior director of residential services. “We are taking this environment and mimicking it in some of our existing housing.”

The Charles Lea Center currently has about 370 people living in residential apartments and homes throughout the Upstate.

Seated in a wheelchair inside the apartment area at the Life Skills Center, Garrick controlled the doors, the TV, the lights, the front door and a bed simply by touching an iPad. With each touch of the screen, a large smile appeared on his face as objects in the room responded to his commands.

“This means a lot to me,” he said. “It makes me happy.”

When Garrick moves into his Cowpens home in June with three other buddies who also have special needs, the device will no longer be on an iPad; it will be permanently attached to his wheelchair.

A staff worker will live with them at all times to provide assistance if needed, but Bernard says the device will give the residents a lot more independence.

“If the staff person is in the kitchen making hamburgers or whatever and someone wants to change the TV, they can do it without having to wait for someone to do it for them,” he said.

Lois Durrah, director of Charles Lea Center’s day services, says the technology is also great for residents’ families.

“Families now have the reassurance that the person is not going to just be there and helpless — they are capable,” she said. “They can be out on their own and they’re happy and they’re safe and they are so much more independent.”

Garrick says the technology will also remind him when to take his medicine.

Transforming an area that was once occupied by conference rooms into the Life Skills Center took six months and cost about $70,000. The majority was paid for with grants, and the rest was funded by donations.

The original vision consisted of a restaurant, a food store and doctor’s office, but Michael Burnett, a Charles Lea Center employee who helped construct the facility, kept adding details.

The entrance hallway into the facility is covered wall to wall with sights of downtown Spartanburg. A local print-making company enlarged photographs and placed them on the walls.

“We are really excited,” Bernard said. “I think this is a great resource for our community, and it will really help more people move into more independent housing.”

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Passive Remote Monitoring System Helps Distant Family Members Keep an Eye on Independent Elderly Living Alone

product review by Audrey Kinsella

This week, we profile another entry in our series on the rise of online tools for adult children to track daily activities of elderly parents living independently in their own homes. Using a combination of Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), wireless motion detectors and other sensors,SimplyHome (Asheville, NC) helps adult children observe their parents’ daily routines and estimate their safety no matter how far away they are located. 

Though similar to the systems previously profiled in this series — CareZone, Inc.; Independa; ContinuLink; and Saturing* — this service is more “hands on” than others in the category. Short of the assistance of onsite caregivers, the SimplyHome system approaches an immediacy of contact. 

Wireless motion detectors strategically placed throughout the home provide insights into elders’ activities, allowing responses should they deviate from established routines. “Paging Pendants” can be added to the system should the need for PERS be identified during an initial assessment.

The individual assessment always precedes installation of equipment. It includes an evaluation of both the elderly persons’ and their adult child’s needs and daily activities. From this study, the level of support required from SimplyHome technologies is determined. The range of unobtrusive, wireless motion detectors and other sensors that are installed address these particular needs.

It may be determined, for example, that there is a need to monitor falls, wandering, inactivity or cooking safety. Once installed, they begin to learn the individual’s normal routines. Sensors may be placed on the stove, microwave oven and refrigerator, motion detectors in the bedroom, kitchen and bathrooms, etc. Detailed information is tracked about normal daily activities so that later communications alerts can be sent from SimplyHome base units to call centers when abnormal activitiy is detected. There, trained responders may make phone calls to alert family caregivers who can decide whether additional response is needed.

Regular tracking by sensors and timely responses by trained call center staff are what Allen Ray, CEO of SimplyHome, says set his company apart from other services in this category. He told us, “By creating a supportive home environment, SimplyHome allows loved ones to age in place while enjoying independent living.” Family clients participate by responding to alerts of possible problems such as changes in the elderly adult’s sleeping patterns or numbers of evening trips to the bathroom. As a result, they will want to contact professional caregivers for assistance, thus taking a proactive rather than reactive role to needed changes that the elderly adult requires to continue living safely and comfortably at home.

Costs of the SimplyHome System: 
Purchase price starts at $1,200, which includes the system, its base unit, plus components such as motion sensors and door/window contact alert mechanisms. It can be leased for $175.00/month.

Monthly fee for monitoring, communication alerts, and access to the company’s web site is $59.95 without connection to the call center and $79.95 with this connection.

Priced separately, the SimplyHome PERS can be purchased for $124.95, with a $27.95/month fee for call center connection.

*Locate previous reviews in Audrey’s excellent series by using our search tool on the HCTR home page. Click on “Search Articles” and enter a company name into the search field. 

Audrey Kinsella, MA, MS, has written on home telehealthcare and new technologies for home care service delivery for 20 years, in 6 books, multiple web sites, and more than 150 published articles.  She can be reached at: telehealthcare@lycos.comor 828-252-8571. Review the full article HERE

Life Skills Center Now Open

We are so excited to celebrate the opening of the new Life Skills Center at The Charles Lea Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina! This training apartment and mock downtown will help so many individuals live more independently. A huge thanks to the Charles Lea Center Foundation and all the wonderful donors for making this happen!!!

SimplyHome Partner, The Charles Lea Center, Debuts Groundbreaking Interactive Life Skills Center

SimplyHome and The Charles Lea Center of Spartanburg, SC, celebrate the opening of the new Life Skills Center with Ribbon Cutting and Open House Monday today at 11:00 am.

Asheville, N.C. May 21, 2012

SimplyHome Partner, The Charles Lea Center of Spartanburg, SC, will celebrate the grand opening of its new Life Skills Center with a ribbon cutting and open house on today at 11:00am.  An apartment within the training space is outfitted with SimplyHome technology.

The Charles Lea Center’s new Life Skills Center is a hands-on training facility that prepares adults with special needs for living independently and as a part of the community.

The Life Skills Center is a fully outfitted training apartment that uses interactive technology to promote independence. The SimplyHome System used at the training includes a voice-activated tablet that controls lighting, tv, doors, and the bed. Also included are automatic door openers, a stove sensor, motion sensors, a paging pendent, and a bed sensor.

The Life Skills Center also has a mock grocery store, restaurant, bank, and doctor’s and dentist’s offices, streetscaping, and a vehicle for practicing transfers from a wheelchair to a car.

“We are honored to partner with an organization who has taken the charge in innovative thinking in South Carolina,” says Allen Ray, SimplyHome CEO. “Their willingness to be the front runner for the use of our technology in a program setting has enabled them to serve more people with the funds that are available.”

The Charles Lea Center already partners with SimplyHome to provide technology in their residential support programs to enable independent living. The SimplyHome System placed in the Life Skills Center is an accurate replica of how our technology is currently being utilized in their independent living program.

The Life Skills Center was designed and built by Charles Lea Center employees as the first step toward Empowering Independence for special needs adults.

Donations made this possible in existing space at the main Burdette Street campus.

RSVP For the Ribbon Cutting: 864-562-2221

About SimplyHome

SimplyHome designs and installs wireless technology products and related care-focused services. The company is committed to promoting affordable and dignified solutions for independent living – specifically to aging and disabled populations nationwide. SimplyHome is known for its highly-customizable systems that are tailored to meet each customer’s specific needs.

SimplyHome products and services range from voice-activated environmental controls (as shown recently on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), Personal Emergency Response Systems, GPS watches, motion sensors, and stove monitors to Virtual Care Management® – SimplyHome’s model for client care.  SimplyHome is a 2012 Edison Award winner for “Best New Product.”

For more information, visit: .

About The Charles Lea Center

For almost 40 years, the Charles Lea Center played an important role in the lives of thousands of Spartanburg county residents and it continues to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, businesses and community members. The Center grew from an organization geared towards helping children with disabilities to an organization committed to helping people of all ages with special needs throughout their life.

It is the Center’s mission to be the organization committed to supporting people with disabilities and special needs where they live, work and play. By offering residential options ranging from group homes to independent living; day habilitation and vocational training the Center is helping more 1,400 people achieve their dreams and improve their quality of life.

For more information, visit:

The Charles Lea Center

195 Burdette Street

Spartanburg, SC   29307