About Our Director
Tonja “Taj” Jones-Blount
Tonja Jones-Blount is the mother of Dre and Tre, and the founder and Executive Program Director of Dre’s Haven. She is also an accomplished executive with comprehensive leadership experience in operations, budget oversight, program development, administration, and training. Tonja is a licensed Psychologist, Life Coach, RBT, CBT Practitioner, and Realtor®. With over 28 years of experience working with various target populations including delinquent, dependent, and foster youth, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, specifically, nonverbal autistic adults.
Tonja is married to Lawrence and enjoys traveling, writing, and hosting gatherings for her family and close friends.
Tonja credits raising her two amazing sons and the life-changing work with families through both her private and professional endeavors as her most rewarding achievements.
“Dre’s is nonverbal but speaks to me with those beautiful chestnut eyes and gorgeous smile. Dre gave me purpose and is my guiding light…I am his voice.
Dre “all grown up”
Our vision for the future is to establish the Dre’s Haven model as the ideal way to help adults with neurodiversities realize their full potential. We plan on doing this not only within the walls of Dre’s Haven, but beyond the walls as well.
This Year and Looking Ahead - We are expanding our programs and impacts to include emancipated foster youth and veterans. The need is great, and we are building our capacity to make sure that people of all abilities live in safe housing, neighborhoods and communities, with the supports and services necessary to live their best possible lives. This is our vision.
Dre’s Haven residents shopping at the Governor’s Square Mall with Dre’s Cousin, (Former NFL Wide Receiver and 3x Superbowl Champion), LaGarette Blount
TAJ AND HER OLDER COUSIN EVELYN “COOKIE” SMITH
DRE'S HAVEN, INC. 1041 LASCALA DRIVE, WINDERMERE, FL 34786
Evelyn, affectionately known as cookie, was adopted at birth by my elderly aunt and uncle. Tragically, they both died when cookie was 15, and she was placed in a group home in Monticello, Florida. I Remembered cookie as the big kid who stole our dolls, and played jacks and hide & seek with me and my sister Vonda. When I became an adult, I began to search for her. We finally reconnected in 1993, but when Dre was diagnosed with autism, my family and I moved from Tallahassee to Orlando and we again lost contact. In 2003, she found me! We promised to never be out of each other’s lives again.
I kept that promise and every year, no matter where we lived (Atlanta, GA, Perry, FL, Tallahassee, or Orlando), I made the drive to Thomasville to pick her up for these special occasions: our birthdays (hers was on 9/27 and mine is 9/29), Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and any other family or Dre’s Haven event.
Her visits lasted at least a week and Dre would allow her to follow him around from room to room informing him that they were a lot alike, they will always have a bond, and if she could talk, so could he. Dre’s bedroom is his sanctuary and although he stopped others at the door, he allowed Cookie to have her way throughout her visit. It was like he knew that she had an intellectual disability, and he gave her a pass.
Everything we did and every place we went was an adventure for Cookie, who would grin from ear to ear, ask 1,000 questions, and strike up a conversation with anyone who stood still long enough to answer. I still can’t forget the way she beamed (and thanked me) for days after I gifted her the gown she’s wearing in the photo.
Cookie moved into her very first apartment in January and began to call more often. I could tell she was lonely, so I answered even when I was busy. One Thursday, Cookie called to let me know that she was told that she mentally retarded and she was happy that I had loved and accepted her although she was. I held back the tears as I explained to her that there was no such diagnosis and that she was simply a “different thinker”! She loved how that sounded and even repeated it a few times before making her request to visit; “I will only be busy for one day this month, so I can fit you and the boys in my schedule any time after my doctor’s appointment on Friday”.
That was to be our last conversation. Cookie died on Saturday and was discovered on Mother’s Day 2021. She was an amazing person and I love and miss her tremendously! (R.I.H. Sweet Cousin).