To provide safe homes for people with disabilities, CASS Housing keeps adapting with COVID-19

Hi! My name is David Buuck, and I’m the Founder and Executive Director of CASS Housing. CASS is a privately funded nonprofit organization that creates customized housing and support solutions for adults with developmental disabilities, like autism and Down syndrome.

While growing up here in Fort Wayne, I thought I wanted to teach and then go onto seminary to be a pastor. I learned quickly that loving kids and teaching kids are two very different things, and church politics and I never got along. I wanted to help people, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like or meant. I ended up graduating with a Theology degree during the most recent economic crisis in December 2008. I immediately started a master’s program in Human Services and a certificate in Nonprofit Management. After my wife Amy and I got married in March 2010, we moved into a residential community for adults with disabilities as part of my internship. David Buuck

Our time in that community changed our life. We lived with two older gentlemen with Down syndrome and became family with the other 22 adults with developmental disabilities and 10 Stewards (live-in support staff). I could fill pages upon pages of how our paradigms were shifted and shattered, but those stories are best over a cup of coffee.

After my internship ended, we bounced around between Fort Wayne and the Chicagoland area, trying to secure work. We ended up landing back here in 2012 as the city really began to grow into something special. I started for a local Medicaid waiver provider that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2015, I found myself with 45 people on my caseload. All of these families, regardless of their loved one’s ability level, gender, and socio-economic status, had one pressing question: What’s going to happen when I’m no longer able to care for my child or when I pass away?

As I spent more time within the government-funded system, it became clear to me that supplemental, not competitive, services needed to be created. That is the space where CASS was formed. CASS (which stands for Customizable, Affordable, Sustainable, and Safe) is essentially a nonprofit housing developer/landlord that offers additional services for folks with developmental disabilities.

I left my job in July 2015 to start CASS. I had no executive management experience. I had never created an organization’s budget. I had zero fundraising experience. And for two and a half years, I didn’t take a paycheck. But by the grace of God, incredible supporters along the way, and countless podcasts, it all worked out.

We launched our first Independent Living home in January 2019, and our second home is finishing up this month (May 2020). With nearly 200 families interested in our three different programs, our “supply” will never be able to fully keep up with our “demand.” It is this reality that drives our board and staff of three people to build as many homes as possible, as quickly as possible, and in the most sustainable manner.

That being said, COVID has not been kind to area nonprofits, CASS included. However, in the midst of a marked decrease in donations and special event funding, we were able to secure PPP funds, which was incredibly helpful (shout out to Don Cates and his fantastic team over at 3Rivers). Additionally, our board led the charge during the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne’s #GivingTuesdayNow matching grant challenge, and we were able to secure more than $20,000 in community philanthropy earlier this month.

For a young, growing nonprofit these funds are absolutely essential in keeping the momentum going. While we have spent the majority of our time trying to help connect Core Members (residents) and their families through different events, that obviously stopped basically overnight. We, like the rest of the world, have shifted to digital gatherings. Additionally, we have used this time to dig into more background/admin tasks that have been pushed to the back burner. CASS is a stronger organization today than March 13th when life changed for everyone.

As a team, we have discussed that the pandemic shows how critical our services are. Most of the parents looking at our program are in their 60s and 70s (some even in their 80s). These families share how important it is that they help their children get situated in their new home, in their new life, just in case something would happen to them.

During one of the toughest economic and public health crises in history, we have to move and grow as quickly as possible. If the world has fundamentally changed like many people believe, then we have to be innovative and try things that have not been tried before.

The rules have changed, so we, like all businesses, must adapt.

Our families need CASS to succeed. So we will.

This blog is part of an ongoing, weekly series in Input Fort Wayne, following local small business owners and nonprofit leaders as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Read David's blog next week by subscribing to our free weekly email newsletter.

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