For his whole life, Jason Leonard has been told that he is destined to fail. Factors of his childhood made it easy to fail, but Jason was always determined to succeed, even when a horrific car accident left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
That determination and a little help from MIH has helped him find his ideal living situation, where he can take care of himself, play chess and live the life that he wants at 43 years old.
In his young lifetime, Jason has had extended stays in 4-5 hospitals, three group homes, two retirement homes and one day program. Now, thanks to MIH, he is thriving in his own home.
Growing up in Wheaton, Jason had a somewhat typical childhood. He played football at Einstein High School, got in and out of trouble and grew to love the game of chess.
One fateful night in December of 1998, Jason drove his car haphazardly into a tree in the neighborhood of Forest Glen. He was taken to Montgomery General Hospital, where he was lucky to be alive, but was diagnosed with TBI. It took Jason several years of physical therapy to be able to walk again, but finally did. He moved from a wheelchair, to a walker to now, a cane.
He enrolled at Montgomery College at the age of 25. “I was there for one reason,” said Jason. “I wanted to get an Early Childhood Education certificate.”
In 2017, Jason wanted to find a way to put together what he learned in school and tell his story. So, with the help of a typist, he wrote a book. “I Did it, I proved You Wrong You, You and You, In the Back” hit the Amazon website shortly thereafter and is available in paperback.
He eventually started teaching chess in elementary schools. “I find chess very relaxing, he said. “It’s just you and the pieces. They will do what ever you want them to.”
From the time of Jason’s accident, he has lived in a variety of arrangements. HIRRS (Head Injury Rehabilitation & Referral Services) offered group home living to Jason for 20 years He lived in three different houses, two in Gaithersburg and one in Silver Spring, with people who had also sustained brain injuries.
As much as he appreciated the arrangement, he wanted to live on his own as a grown man in his 40s.
He needed to find a way to successfully access and maintain inclusive and affordable housing. Jason collaborated with a case manager at Montgomery County Department of Social Services, who got in touch with Lauren Silverstone, Director of Housing Support Services at MIH in the spring of 2022.
Lauren was excited to work with Jason right away to get on tenant and project-based waitlists to help him find the independent housing he was looking for. By the summertime, she found a subsidized option, which eventually led to a one-bedroom apartment at a reputable housing complex in Rockville. Jason moved in shortly afterwards.
“There are many individuals currently residing in group homes who could live successfully in the community with the right supports and resources,” said Lauren. “Jason is a shining example of how individuals can thrive independently when given choices of where they’d like to live.”
She helped him fill out all the paperwork needed to apply for the voucher. She also helped him set up utilities, work with the Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) to subsidize gas and electric bills and get connected with “Call N Ride,” a service that offers reduced fare taxi rides. She continues to help with his paperwork today.
“I would not have gotten this place without Lauren and MIH,” said Jason. “I wouldn’t have even known where to start. Lauren helped me find affordable housing options. She helped me every step of the way.”
In addition to chess, Jason spends his time watching tv and involving himself in activities at the Aspen Hill Christian Church.
Jason continues to receive services from HIRRS. He attends a day program, where he receives cognitive rehabilitation, plays chess, participates in community activities and develops his cooking skills three days per week. He receives personal support services in his home, in which HIRRS staff members assist Jason with grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
MIH was created in 2020 to help people like Jason, with intellectual and developmental disabilities, find the affordable and accessible housing they need. With the proper supports in place, Jason is confident he has what he needs to succeed now and into the future.