Arlene Schroeder in front of her house, the Edgemere Inn. Photo by Mara Certic.
By Mara Certic
Tucked away on a quiet private drive off of Noyac Road in North Sea, Arlene Schroeder and her West Highland terrier, Hazel, prepare to welcome guests to their home, The Edgemere Inn—a bed and breakfast for the physically challenged.
Ms. Schroeder had worked for the state as a service coordinator for the developmentally disabled for the majority of her professional life when, at the age of 45, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Until you’re disabled, or in a wheelchair, you have no idea,” she said on Monday, 19 years since her diagnosis. Many hotels, she explained, are not easily navigated by wheelchair-bound patrons. Even restaurants that advertise themselves as being wheelchair-accessible frequently have one step between the entrance and the dining room, which Ms. Schroeder said, “can be like a mountain.”
A native of Hicksville, Ms. Schroeder spent childhood summers at her aunt and uncle’s beachfront house on Edgemere Drive in Southampton. Her aunt and uncle would sail their boat to Mystic, she said, while she and her grandmother would escape to the house overlooking Little Peconic Bay. Her grandmother, not a fan of the sand or sun, would stay inside while a 10-year-old Ms. Schroeder would explore the surrounding beaches and wilderness.
Ms. Schroeder was “very close” to her aunt and uncle, who left her the house in their will some 10 years ago. After working for the state for 27 years, Ms. Schroeder retired.
“I retired because I felt I wasn’t giving my consumers, the taxpayers enough,” she said. “And I felt it wasn’t fair to the consumers I was working with.
So Ms. Schroeder moved into the house she had summered in as a girl and began to make changes to it. Doors were widened, floors leveled and ramps installed in order to make the rooms of the house wheelchair accessible.
Ms. Schroeder did some of the work for preparing for progression of multiple sclerosis. The disease, the cause of which is still unknown, attacks the nervous system, progressively disrupting the communication between the brain and body. Two weeks ago Ms. Schroeder got a new motorized wheelchair that she now has started using around the house, “I don’t like being in a wheelchair,” she said. “But I like the ease with which I can get around now.”
The real driving force behind the remodeling, though, was to open up a bed and breakfast on the water for the physically challenged. Four years ago, Ms. Schroeder got her 501c4, status as a not-for-profit. She is now applying for her 501c3, which would change her status to a nonprofit. If accepted, that would mean that she would not have to pay any taxes if she were to turn a profit. “I haven’t made a profit yet,” she added.
But making money is by no means her goal, anyway. Ms. Schroeder strives to create a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere for those who have difficulty getting away. “I tried to make it like a bed and breakfast, not like a hospital room,” she said in one of the four bedrooms in her house (one is her own room, one is not quite ready for paying guests, she said.)
The rooms are large, airy and have the desired feel of a small bed and breakfast. Only small details distinguish them from those in any other inn. But those small details, Ms. Schroeder said, are all crucial.
Her hallways and doorways all had to be widened from 24 inches to 36 inches to enable wheelchairs to pass through. Her showers have been redone to allow them to fit wheelchairs—one bathroom has a seat in it to allow guests to move themselves from their chairs into the shower.
“I made some mistakes,” said Ms. Schroeder, pointing up at the bathroom mirrors from her wheelchair. She explained that she needed to have them tilted down, to allow her guests to see themselves while seated.
But those mistakes are not stopping her. Ms. Schroeder continues to expand and improve the Edgemere Inn. At a fundraising event at the Southampton Social Club on Saturday, June 28, the not-for-profit received donations that will go toward funding new projects.
Among these are an outdoor shower, a ramp down to the beach and an elevated garden. “What I would like to do, is to have raised gardens so that people can pick flowers, if they want to, or strawberries, or tomatoes,” she said pointing to part of her 1.2-acre property.
But the most valuable donation she received on Saturday, she said, was a woman’s offer to volunteer at the inn for 20 hours a week. “That really meant the most to me,” she said.
Her customers are not just the physically challenged in need of respite, she explained, but can be those who come to visit family who do not have wheelchair-friendly homes.
Last summer, Ms. Schroeder had a guest who had not been able to visit her sister in Sag Harbor because her son’s cerebral palsy had drastically limited the number of places they could stay.
“People can have their families come meet them here too,” she said.