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Rockville Breaks Ground on Inclusive, Affordable Housing for People With Disabilities

Main Street to open in 2020, providing 70 apartments near Rockville Town Square

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Jillian and Scott Copeland embrace as Scott becomes emotional during his speech at the groundbreaking for Main Street, an inclusive, affordable housing community for people with disabilities.

Caitlynn Peetz

When Nicol Copeland was 8 months old he began to have seizures that would rock his body, leaving him in a fit of convulsions.

His seizures, though currently controlled, caused some developmental disabilities and created “global challenges” for him as a young adult, including a lack of accommodating, affordable housing.

But soon, 19-year-old Copeland and other adults with disabilities will have a unique home to call their own, as crews broke ground Friday afternoon on an inclusive housing community, called Main Street, in Rockville, the result of a project spearheaded by his parents.

Copeland was late to Friday’s ceremony due to a hospitalization, but his brother, Ethan, read his pre-prepared speech.
“Main Street will be great for me and lots of other people with special needs because we will have a safe place to live and will be an important part of the community,” Ethan Copeland read. “I want to live independently as an adult. … Main Street will help me and so many others do that.”

Scott Copeland, right, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for Main Street while his wife, Jillian, and son, Nicol, listen.

According to statistics from the Copelands, two-thirds of adults with disabilities in the Rockville community said in a survey they had “no community participation” in the past year, which is “not OK,” said Copeland’s mother, Jillian Copeland. So she and her husband, Scott, decided to take action.

“This moment is more than building a building,” Jillian said. “It’s a celebration of equality, of equal rights, providing opportunities for people with disabilities. This is a movement of inclusion and respect.”

The Copelands’ plan for Main Street is to combine housing with a wide range of community activities. The complex at 50 Monroe Place will offer 70 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and a movie room, art gallery, wellness center and places to socialize. Many of the apartments will be available to anyone, but about a quarter will be designated specifically for people with disabilities. Main Street will utilize private and public funding, as well as low income tax credits from the state to provide housing at a reduced cost.

And people with disabilities will have the opportunity to find work and entertainment without traveling outside of the community, as plans also call for opening a coffee shop staffed by people with developmental needs, Jillian Copeland said.
A short walk from Rockville Metro Station and Rockville Town Square, Main Street will partner with outside groups to offer professional workshops and classes in the community’s kitchen, rooftop garden, computer lab and meeting spaces.

People hold up signs with words and phrases describing what Main Street means to them.

More than 300 people gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking including dozens of local, county and state leaders. Among the crowd was Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, Montgomery County Council members, Maryland Department of Disabilities Secretary Carol Beatty, Maryland Department of Housing Secretary Ken Holt and others.

Many of those officials played a key role in making Main Street a reality and were part of a long list of “thank-yous” rattled off by an emotional Scott Copeland, who said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.

“The warm embrace we’ve gotten from so many government agencies … every single one understood our mission of inclusion and affordability and worked really hard to make this dream a reality,” Scott said. “They all nodded yes, shared important advice … because they really wanted to see this project happen.”

The impact Main Street will have in Montgomery County was easily seen Friday afternoon.

Jillian Copeland speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for Main Street, an inclusive, affordable housing community for people with developmental disabilities in Rockville.

When asked what Main Street means to the crowd, dozens held up signs with sentiments like “community,” “equality” and “inclusiveness.” One sign, on bright green paper toward the back of the crowd read “no more basement,” and struck a chord with Leggett, who drew attention to it during his speech.

And while the Copelands spent a copious amount of time thanking others who helped bring Main Street to fruition, Leggett made sure to remind them the project wouldn’t have been possible without their determination and zeal to improve everyone’s quality of life.

“All that you talked about was helping a broader community, not about your family, not about a narrow interest, but an interest that was inclusive,” Leggett said. “What Main Street has done is to help bring those in the shadows of life to the Main Street.”
Raskin echoed Leggett, and also presented the family with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for its effort to promote inclusion.

“Generations to come will celebrate the generosity and vision of this family,” Raskin said.

And if Jillian Copeland’s history is any indicator, Main Street should be a major success. About a decade ago, she founded The Diener School in Potomac after determining a lack of schools that support students with disabilities. Diener serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade and features small class sizes of no more than 10 students to foster an environment suitable for adapted teaching curriculum.

But with Friday’s groundbreaking in the books, Jillian Copeland said she is now focused on developing Main Street, anticipated to open in the winter of 2020.

“I want everybody who walks in the doors of Main Street and beyond, despite their ability, gender, religion [and] wallet to know that you have a home and that you belong,” she said. “We’re not here just to celebrate Main Street, but to set a precedent for what is possible in the future—giving everyone, despite their challenges, an opportunity to live a full, meaningful life. This is just the beginning.”

From left, Scott Copeland, U.S. Sen. Jamie Raskin and Jillian Copeland react to comments made during the groundbreaking ceremony for Main Street.

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