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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Bittersweet Farms buys former youth academy in Pemberville

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Aaron Jennings, an Eastwood School Local District student, and Anne Clark of Bowling Green are part of the newly expanded program at Bittersweet Pemberville. Aaron Jennings, an Eastwood School Local District student, and Anne Clark of Bowling Green are part of the newly expanded program at Bittersweet Pemberville.
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PEMBERVILLE, Ohio - Bittersweet Farms, which has provided services to autistic people for more than 25 years from its home in Whitehouse, has bought the former Pemberville Youth Academy in Wood County for $225,000.

"We're really excited because not only are we tying up the remodeling, we now own the property, as of Friday," said Vicki Obee-Hilty, director of Bittersweet Inc.

For a year, Bittersweet has been leasing the facility, which for years was home to the Pemberville Youth Academy, a group home for troubled boys that had at times prompted safety concerns among the neighbors.

When the academy closed last year for financial reasons, its board began searching for a tenant in the business of helping children.

It hooked up with Bittersweet, which began offering a daytime educational program there for autistic adolescents.

"We're very happy that the property is in use by Bittersweet for the purpose that it is. It's quite consistent with our intended use," said Bill Rowles, president of the board of trustees for the former youth academy.

Bittersweet Farms has bought the former youth academy and will offer residential services for autistic individuals. Bittersweet Farms has bought the former youth academy and will offer residential services for autistic individuals.
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Ms. Obee-Hilty said Bittersweet plans to add a residential program.

Four autistic adolescents will attend school and live there with around-the-clock staff. She said Bittersweet has no other immediate plans for the facility, which is on 10 acres along Kahler Road near Bradner Road in Freedom Township.

"We will be focusing on remodeling the space here to meet our needs, and I think that will be the focus for a few years," she said. "The demand for service is tremendous. We get on average one or two calls a week, and we have a waiting list."

Bill Clifford, superintendent of the Wood County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, worked with Bittersweet to help secure a $35,000 grant from the Ohio Department of MRDD that Bittersweet plans to use to remodel the bathrooms and kitchen at the Pemberville site.

He said he's excited to have the organization nearby.

"Their expertise in serving individuals who have autism really holds a significant value in Wood County. I think it's great that they have expanded their services in Wood County," Mr. Clifford said.

Students who attend school at "Bittersweet Pemberville," as it's been named, may have been in public schools or in a specialized settings but did not succeed there, typically because of behavioral issues.

Ms. Obee-Hilty said seven students attend school at Bittersweet Pemberville.

Two of those students and two new ones will live there when the residential program opens later this school year.

As for the Pemberville Youth Academy, Mr. Rowles said that once the board pays off its remaining bills, it will have about $200,000 left that it plans to put to good use.

He said the board is talking about creating a scholarship fund to benefit northwest Ohio youths.

"We've been having some conversations with BGSU and some other educational organizations.

"One is an African-American college club that does some work with African-American students who have no college connections either through parents or friends who have gone to college, and we're looking at trying to support that in some way," he said.

"Basically," Mr. Rowles said, "we're trying to help young people in other ways than group-home living."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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