New Ann Arbor nonprofit offers community center for people with special needs

Having supported loved ones with special needs, three local residents are applying their experience to a new Ann Arbor nonprofit community center serving others with special needs.
The Unique Care Connect Special Needs Community Center, located at 3060 Packard St., Suite B in Ann Arbor, was launched in August by Zee Kennedy, Tiana Haygood, and Steven Weideman, who currently operate the facility on a volunteer basis. According to Kennedy, the organization's executive director, the community center is open to people of "all ages, all abilities."

"We’re not limiting anyone," she says. "We don’t turn anyone down."
Services are provided completely free of charge, though families are welcome to make donations when able. The center is currently open Monday through Saturday, with two to seven hours of programming available each day.
"We do taco nights, we do life skills outings, [and] we also do job skills training and things like that," Kennedy says.
Kennedy, says she and her two colleagues frequently work up to 60 or 70 hours a week to keep the center running.
"I had to give up a lot," she says. "We all did, actually. … As far as food goes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches do the deal."
All three have a personal stake in the business, with close friends or family members with special needs. But while they’re each motivated by passion and sincere care, Kennedy admits, "We can only do so much between the three of us."
With the right resources, Kennedy says, she’d like to be able to hire a grant writer, expand into a larger space, and eventually provide housing and job opportunities.
"I just want to give [visitors] something to hold on to — just a good memory to hold on to," she says. "That's why these programs are so important, because they make a friend and they have so much fun to the point where they're happy for a couple of days, we're encouraging them to stay positive, and they look forward to actually coming back, because they have a family now. So it's important to me that they just feel welcomed. They can be themselves. They're not being judged."

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Photo courtesy of Unique Care Connect Special Needs Community Center.
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