Profile: Family nonprofit seeks to empower young adults with special needs
By Mo Juenger, World News Editor
Marco Reyes is a charming young man. At only 16, he is funny and bashful but quick to a smile. As he and his family sit before me, I understand how he inspired them to found their local nonprofit, Angels’ Castle.
Marco was diagnosed with autism as a young child, and his family soon learned that he would grow up using primarily nonverbal communication. His brother, Louie, and his mother, Dr. Beatriz Porras, prod him to open up to me as he sits in our interview.
He is animated in his communication, his eyes lighting up as his mother tells me about her son’s love of horseback riding. Marco gets excited and stands up as she explains the nature of Angels’ Castle.
The nonprofit, founded two years ago by the Reyes family, will act as a residential and day camp for young adults with special needs once it officially opens. Though the program’s infrastructure is still being built, it will soon sit on 22 acres of land in Springfield Township, Ohio.
According to Beatriz, Angels’ Castle will serve as a housing facility for 32 young adults who are aging out of high school.
“As he was growing up, we started worrying about the future, what would happen when we would pass away, what he would do after high school,” she explains. “We looked at all of these facilities… but we wanted something better and we couldn’t find anything.”
That’s when she came up with the idea for the nonprofit. 32 adults with disabilities will be admitted to their residential program, after a thorough admissions process to ensure that applicants are restroom-trained and able to communicate verbally or nonverbally.
Young adults like Marco, who communicate through nonverbal means, can attend by using various technologies to communicate. They can use iPads and apps to communicate by typing or choosing images to express themselves.
An additional 38 and 48 students will also be admitted to the program for day camp and summer camp services.
Residential adults will grow old with the campus, Beatriz hopes. In her and her son Louie’s eyes, this program will act as a sort of “undergraduate” experience for the young adults. They will be assigned roommates, live in dorm-like housing and hopefully gain the sense of community that students gain during college.
Louie, a 2020 Xavier biology alum and the treasurer of Angels’ Castle, is particularly inspired by this aspect of the Angels’ Castle experience. At Indian High School, where Marco is enrolled, Louie worries that his little brother isn’t receiving the socialization that many teens his age are.
For this reason, Beatriz is excited to plan parties for her campers and residents.
“Singing and dancing… (we want to) build up friendships and camaraderie,” she remarks.
But it won’t be all fun and games over at the castle. Residents there will take daily classes in academic and vocational subjects. Math, science, art, horseback riding, horticulture, cooking: these are just a few of the classes that Beatriz aspires to institute once the program opens.
Marco hops out of his chair with a smile clear in his eyes as Beatriz mentions the parties; it’s clear that these will be popular events.
Residents will also participate in speech and occupational therapy, as well as actively seek jobs in the surrounding community. Once a resident lands a job, Angels’ Castle will provide transportation to and from their place of work whenever necessary.
The Porras-Reyes family is enthusiastic about their future; it’s clear in their eyes as they imagine a day in their life at the camp. But it will still take a lot of hard work to get there.
In July, the organization hosted a “clean-up” day on the Springfield property to get the place ready for renovation.
“I was posting pictures on Instagram of our family on the property and people were commenting that they could pick up trash there. A lot of people came out,” Louie said. He blushed as his mother added that he’s been instrumental in planning these events.
In the future, Louie hopes to host more clean-up days and even gala-style events with singers and piano players. They’ll have a silent auction, with proceeds benefiting the family nonprofit.
For now, they’re planning a second clean-up day, set to happen on March 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. on the Angels’ Castle property at 2732 Compton Road in Cincinnati.
Xavier students are encouraged to join the Porras-Reyes family for a day of free food, drinks, raffles and community service. Anyone interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Until then, Marco and his family are patiently waiting to make their dream of Angels’ Castle into a reality.