The inspirational story behind a new Forsyth County nonprofit group looking to help special needs adults help themselves

Kimberly Bond
Family First Villages will offer job opportunities to adults with special needs.Photo byFamily First Villages

(Forsyth County, GA) Julie Carter is a person with a mission. She is the founder of Family First Villages, a new nonprofit organization inspired by Carter’s own family history. Her goal is to create a way for adults with special needs, like her sister, to live full and joyful lives while gaining independence.

Annie’s story

Carter’s sister Annie Wood was born in 1978. At first, there were no signs that Wood was different from other children. But in school, she struggled. The family thought she might have a learning disability. They didn’t learn until 2000 - at age 22 - that Wood had a genetic condition that would keep her mental abilities at a middle-school level.

After she finished school, Wood continued to live with her parents, but there were no longer social opportunities for people like her in her community.

She got a job at a supermarket within walking distance. She tried to contribute around the house. But as her parents got older, they began to struggle with her care. Carter, her husband, and their two children decided that Wood should live with them and converted their basement into an apartment for her.

Today, Wood is a cheerful, friendly adult. She has low support needs and can use Access Forsyth to get a ride to her job. But because of her condition, Wood is not able to learn to drive or live alone. That led Carter to start worrying about her sister’s future.
Annie Wood, the inspiration for Family First Villages.Photo byFamily First Villages

“Someday we’ll get older too,” Carter shared. “Right now there’s nowhere in Forsyth County where Annie could live then.”

Besides her concerns about the future, Carter wanted a richer life for her sister. “I want Annie to live in a safe community where she can walk to work and have friends,” she said. “I want her to have care, but also independence. I want her to have a job where she feels like a valued member of society, but I want her to be protected in a working environment where managers and employees are trained how to engage positively with special needs individuals.”

Carter knew her family wasn’t the only one in this situation. Her research showed that 96% of special needs adults in Forsyth County lived with a parent because of limited housing options. She decided it was time to start something new.
Wood and Carter - sisters as children and today.Photo byFamily First Villages

Family First Villages

The mission of Family First Villages is to create a live, work, and play community for special needs adults in Forsyth County. The first step in the plan is to create a family entertainment complex near Post Road and Highway 9, both of which the county plans to widen with future construction projects. The complex would offer attractions such as mini golf, batting cages, and concessions areas.

“There are plenty of schools, plenty of families in this area,” Carter said.
The first planned phase of Family First Villages.Photo byFamily First Villages

The entertainment complex would also provide work opportunities for special needs adults. From the revenue stream, the next step would be to create housing. The workers could live on-site, making it easier for them to access job opportunities and be part of a supportive community. It would also be a huge benefit for families who would otherwise have to pay for relatives to live in a special needs facility, where monthly costs may be anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 – or more.

“We’re hoping to create an ecosystem where the entire project can become self-sustaining,” shared Carter.

Getting involved

For Families First Villages, 2023 will be their first year as an official nonprofit organization. Carter is hoping to raise awareness and begin fundraising.

“We’re going to be forming a launch team in January,” said Carter.

To join the launch team or get more information, you can sign up for an e-letter on the website. Carter said it will provide simple updates on the project each month.

There will also be regular meetings for launch team members. The first will be a Zoom meeting on January 11.

Family First Villages is also launching its first capital campaign. The project is called “Heart of Hope.” Donors can purchase one of 1,014 puzzle pieces in a planned 30x20-foot puzzle in honor of a family member or special needs person in their life. In the future, the artwork will be displayed at Family First Village.

Carter is hopeful about what this year will bring, and has a message to supporters. “We hope you know how much we appreciate you as we begin on a journey to transform the special needs community in Forsyth County,” she said.

Do you know someone starting a new exciting project in Forsyth County in 2023? Comment below or email to let us know.

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I'm a writer, editor, and journalist with a background in law and science. I love writing about interesting local places and events in Forsyth County, especially new businesses or family-friendly experiences.

Cumming, GA

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