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A Mother’s Promise Fulfilled

Thanks to the advocacy of one mother who wouldn’t take no for an answer, Brevard County’s residents with special needs have a new place to call home.

Betsy Farmer has always been a hard woman to keep up with. From the moment her second son, Luke, was born with Down syndrome 35 years ago, she has been on a mission to ensure his life would be a full one. She is the driving force behind both the Space Coast Early Intervention Center and the Brevard Business Leadership Network, two organizations that have changed the lives of countless children and young adults here in Brevard. But she didn’t stop there. Farmer had another dream. As her son entered adulthood, she began to envision a housing complex where adults with special needs could live and work independently.

West Melbourne Mayor Hal Rose fondly remembers his first few meetings with Farmer. “We met a few times and while I was visualizing a modest building, Betsy was 10 steps ahead of me and was thinking 100 times larger,” laughed Rose. “I can tell you, Ms. Farmer won’t take no for an answer nor can she color within the lines. Her passion, drive and vision are second to none.”

This fall, Farmer’s dream becomes a reality with the opening of the 39-acre Promise main campus in West Melbourne. The first of the 126 residents — fondly known as “Promisers” — will soon move into their new condos.

“I am most excited about watching our Promisers flourish and be independent,” Farmer said, anticipating the first residents’ moving day. “I’m excited for them to have lots of choices about what their lives will be like, the chance to build their interpersonal skills and make their own friends, to connect with people who share their same interests.”

More than just an accessible apartment complex, the Promise campus will provide adults with special needs with safe, affordable housing, as well as vocational training and recreational opportunities.

A “dream team” of future residents worked alongside the Promise design team to make sure the plans would meet their every need. “Meeting with the Promisers who will actually be living there and hearing what they wanted in order to be able to function better was an eye-opening experience,” Mayor Rose said.

Promise’s campus features a zero-entry, saltwater pool and therapeutic spa, game room, dining room, and hydroponic garden. Not one to do things on a small scale, Farmer’s plan for the not-too-distant future includes a video production studio and covered basketball court.  

Promise will continue to raise funds for an equestrian center and a therapeutic riding program. Future plans for the Promise campus include other services that will be friendly to those with special needs, such as a bed and breakfast and beauty salon. Farmer even visualizes a full-sized gym with the ability to host Special Olympics and Paralympic events.

Thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from The Gannett Foundation, the Promise in Brevard Creative Arts Center is expected to open this fall. The center will allow Promisers to express themselves alongside other residents of the community.

The Promise model is unique because it is so much more than just a housing development. The Promise Foundation has worked hand-in-hand with the community to give adults with special needs the independence they crave and the ability to contribute to our community with purpose. The ideology behind Farmer’s vision ensures that residents become full-fledged members of the community.

“Aside from creating 10 social enterprises for the purpose of creating job opportunities for our future residents, there will be a life-enrichment program that will help to keep the residents engaged and learning all the time,” explains Terry Locke, vice chairman of the Promise board of directors.

All Promise residents will have access to unique job training opportunities. Many residents will work right on the campus providing culinary, landscaping, and property management services.  Others will work at the Promise Treasures Thrift Shop, the soon-to-open Promise Café and Bakery, or elsewhere in the community.   

The new Café and Bakery sits within West Melbourne Community Park, adjacent to the Space Coast Field of Dreams. Ten Promisers will staff the café on opening day, but eventually as many as 40 young adults will work there. The café will provide table service in the main dining area featuring, fresh, homemade items. The café also includes a private dining room, handicapped-accessible walk-up to-go windows, and a country store. An outdoor pavilion will overlook the future West Melbourne Splash Pad.

Promise is a grassroots movement that has become a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization. To learn more and see how you can help, visit www.promiseinbrevard.com.

As she watched her dream become a reality, Farmer was overwhelmed with emotion. “Every parent of a child with special needs knows their job is to help their young adult transition to independence while we can still help them through the transition. But I am most excited that we are about to make 126 families’ dreams come true...  Every morning when I wake up, I know what my purpose is.”

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