A large crowd welcomed the upcoming construction of Oak Tree Farm’s first residence with speeches, food, champagne, prayer and singing Thursday afternoon.

The community, set for a total of six residences housing people with a range of special conditions from autism to learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and even people who have suffered strokes, is expected to accept its first five residents sometime in December.

The first resident, Mark Flannery of Myrtle Beach, told the group that he moved from New Jersey in 2016.

The Carolina Forest grocery clerk said he likes sports, going to the beach, singing in his church choir and being with friends.

He and others have already completed a package of training that covered cooking; cleaning; managing finances and relationships; living a healthy lifestyle; maintaining hygiene; and more.

At Oak Tree Farm he expects lifelong friendships to be forged and a close community to be formed. He expects living there to build his confidence and, he says, he feels blessed to have been selected to live in the first house.

He also thanked God for loving him and gave Romans 8:28 as his favorite Bible verse.

SOS Health Care’s executive director Sarah Pope said the project gives special needs residents an opportunity to not only dream of independence, but also to plan for it.

She thanked staff members, the agency’s board, donors and more for contributing time, money and energy and giving the group hope and energy.

“We’re going to go the distance and we hope you’ll stick with us,” she said.

SOS Health Care’s financial manager Nancy Toreivia says the first house represents an investment of about $400,000, but getting to this point on Medlen Parkway has been much more expensive. Many of the costs have been borne by grants from the S.C. Housing Trust, in-kind donations by the City of Conway, donations from the public and area civic groups including the South Strand, Conway, Little River, Myrtle Beach and Georgetown Lions clubs.

Each residence will include a communal living area and kitchen plus five bedrooms and five bathrooms. There will also be washing machines and dryers. The residences are designed so a resident, who isn’t too social minded can close himself away from the others and live comfortably without too much stimulation.

The development will also have a swimming pool and amenity center, and residents will be offered physical therapy. Volunteers say they will help the residents who are able be job ready and they’ll help them with transportation to their jobs.

The idea behind Oak Tree Farm is to provide a place where people who have been living with aging parents, who will eventually not be able to take care of them, can live independently.

She wants the residents to know that acceptance and independence are possible. She says the community will be a place of peace, tolerance and joy.

Thomas & Hutton is providing the engineering work and King Construction Services Inc. is the contractor.

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy says Conway welcomes the much-needed community to Conway.

“I am so happy to be living in a time and place when we want people to live to their full potential,” she said, adding that hasn’t always been the case.

She encouraged everyone to continue to support this “wonderful venture.”

Toreivia said, “This was a number of years in the making and we’re all very excited to see our dream become a reality and even more excited for the lives that this is going to change.”

She was particularly complimentary of the help the City of Conway has provided to the development and thanked the community for its support.

In addition to providing water and sewer, she said, Conway officials helped secure a building permit. She also pointed to members of their board who are builders and have offered even more help.

She also pointed to area Lions clubs that have adopted Oak Tree Farm as one of their projects.

“It does take a village to do something like this,” Toreivia said.

Lion George O’Neill, a member of the Little River Lions Club and grandfather of a young man who will live at Oak Tree Farm, said there’s not been anything similar to Oak Tree Farm in this area until now and added that the future residents need a safe haven.

Bonnie Stephenson of Mullins, a past district governor for the Lions, called Oak Tree Farm “a worthy project.”

“I just want to help because there’s so many children out there that need a helping hand when they get older and parents not able to take care of them…This is going to be a great burden lifted off of older people,” she said.

The other five residences will be built one at a time as funding is secured.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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