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Organization hopes to use Green Street home for mentoring young men with social disorder
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Jason Cox, director of business development and admissions at Brightstone Transitions, speaks during a tour of a historic home on Green Street in Gainesville on Wednesday. Brightstone Transitions recently purchased the home to incorporate it into its program that aims to help high-functioning autistic individuals. Cox hopes that clients in the program will be able to live in the home while they undergo mentoring and coaching. - photo by David Barnes

A young man with the physical build of a strong college football lineman shared openly with a stranger the many good things that are happening in his life.

There’s no hiding in his voice the sense of pride at reporting that he’s been holding a steady full-time job for the past two years and recently settled into his own apartment.

“I’ve been in programs since I was 8,” said 24-year old Cam, who agreed to speak to The Times on the condition that his last name be withheld.

Forced to deal with and manage a condition diagnosed as mild autism spectrum disorder, Cam is confident that his three-year stint with Brightstone Transitions — a for-profit organization that offers coaching and mentoring to young adults with the condition — will be the last program he’ll ever have to do.

Lauren Kraemer, director of clinical services for Brightstone Transitions, said about 90 percent of her clients see a psychiatrist and will likely continue to see a therapist after they’ve left the program. She said part of her job is being a liaison between the individuals in the program and the psychiatrist.

“Part of our working model is to get them to choose their therapist,” Kraemer said.

Mild ASD, formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome, is characterized by social interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behavior.

Kraemer said her clients have high IQs and are doing well at school.

“They communicate more than what they process,” Kraemer said. “Their world doesn’t have as many social cues.”

The goal of Brightstone Transitions is to help young adults such as Cam to seamlessly integrate into the community by holding jobs, going to school or both, according to Jason Cox, who is the organization’s director of business development and admissions.

Cox said it’s part of the reason why the organization purchased a house at 446 Green St. that is large enough to accommodate up to eight young men on the upper floor of the two-story home, and it plans to use the lower floor for office space. The organization currently houses the men at a home on Lake Lanier. It also operates a program for young women in neighboring Cumming.

Cox said the downtown property is more conducive to the self reliance Brightstone wants to instill in its clients because of the area’s walkability and easy access to city bus service.

Brightstone closed on the downtown property in February. The house was built in 1876 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cox said the proposed use of the house would have little impact on the area as opposed to adjacent businesses in the area.

Despite a favorable recommendation by planning staff, and Cox’s assurances to members of the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board that Brightstone’s clients are “good and sweet kids” who come from well-to-do homes, the board recommended denying the group’s zoning petition to operate on Green Street by a 4-3 vote.

Cox said he was taken aback by the decision, which appeared to be based on opposition from an individual who fears that the young men could cause damage to the historic structure.

Brightstone is hoping that Gainesville City Council, which has final say, will vote differently. A decision may come Tuesday at the next regular council meeting.

Cox said Brightstone talked to city officials about where to find a place to operate before purchasing the property. He said city staff identified the Green Street area as appropriate for what the organization wanted to do.

Most of the young men in the Brightstone program are working entry-level jobs in the community already, Cox said. It would be difficult, he added, if not impossible, to distinguish them from any other young people working at a fast-food place or retail store, he added.

“We want our kids here,” Cox said. “It’s a safe home for them.”

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