Island Autism lands $1.5 million bond
October 6, 2023 : Martha’s Vineyard Times, Eunki Seonwoo
MassDevelopment announced on Thursday it issued a $1.5 million tax-exempt bond on behalf of Island Autism for the development of the Island Autism Center.
According to MassDevelopment, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank purchased the bond, which allowed Island Autism to achieve a lower capital cost, and The Life Initiative, a community investment fund, complemented the financing by providing a $1.5 million loan to bridge donations, fund debt service reserve, and finance a portion of project development costs. MassDevelopment states the proceeds will go toward the hub house of the project, the central communal area where many of Island Autism’s on-campus programs will take place.
Although MassDevelopment issued a press release about the bond on Thursday, Oct. 5, the bond confirmation occurred in June according to Island Autism co-founder and executive director Kate DeVane.
Island Autism is making a fundraising push as construction continues for the new Island Autism Center. The Center will be used as a program location, jobs training site, and housing for individuals with autism.
DeVane said Island Autism needs to have pledges to draw on the funds offered by The Life Initiative. Island Autism has amassed $1.2 million in pledges of the $2 million end-of-season goal. According to DeVane, $1.6 million in pledges are needed to access this funding source, so $400,000 worth of pledges is still needed. Similarly, DeVane said Island Autism can draw from the bond after the $400,000 in pledges is raised.
“I am optimistic we will get there with a few more pledges,” she said, although she emphasized that Island Autism will need to be able to draw on the funding soon.
Including various sources of donations and pledges, Island Autism also held its first gala, named the “Endless Summer Charity Gala.” The event sold out with 150 attendees and a silent auction was held at the Edgartown Tennis Center, accompanied with music from Sultans of Swing. The event also received sponsorships and donations from numerous local businesses. DeVane said the event raised $65,000, of which Island Autism netted around $45,000 after event costs were calculated.
Nicole Holland, who hosted the event and is a part of the Island Autism Board, said it was “kind of magical” how the event came into fruition and commended Islanders who came out in support of the event. While raising money was a part of the gala’s goal, Holland said they were also trying to raise awareness of the “great cause” of Island Autism.
“We wanted to bring awareness to it,” Holland said. “Everybody knows somebody with autism or knows somebody who knows somebody — there’s a lot of people with autism on this Island.”
Holland said she would love for a winter gala to take place to continue spreading the word.
The campus is being built in phases. DeVane said the project is expected to cost $12 million — an increase from the estimated roughly $10 million projected in July — of which $6 million have been raised so far. “We are trying to raise $2 million a year for the next three years,” she said.
DeVane also said the Community Preservation Committee funding from all of the Vineyard towns was part of getting Island Autism “affordable housing dollars.” DeVane hopes the support will continue as they go before the towns again this fall.
“We have huge community support, which we really appreciate,” she said.
The Island Autism Center has several portions to its campus, and its hub house is estimated to be completed in early 2024. However, the precut, post-and-beam kit for the barn will be arriving on Tuesday, October 17, and will be assembled on-site in the next couple of months. The barn will also have solar panels attached.
Construction on two shared, four-bedroom houses for those with “intense needs” is expected to begin by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
DeVane said day programming at the center should be up and running by March. DeVane also pointed out programs already present for people with autism and autism-related disorders. Island Autism’s fall after-school program is underway and the group ran a peer counseling pilot program over the summer.
“We also started our adult, post-22 programming which we hope to get up and running again this fall,” DeVane said.
As for the housing component of the future center, DeVane said the low-income residency program will have an application process.
“The applications will go through a blind scoring process and then pools will be established,” DeVane said. “Then, there will be a lottery from pool one and if there are spaces left over, we will move to pool two and so on.”
DeVane hopes to open the application period in the fall of 2025.