Sunday, June 16, 2024

Special Abilities marks three decades of empowering adults with disabilities

Ten years ago, Jordan Drake sat in her office with a family that was considering Special Abilities of North Texas as an option for their daughter, Katie. As with many of these introductory meetings, Drake spoke about the skills and socialization programs they offer for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also praised the nonprofit for selflessly providing the highest quality care, training, and support so that people like Katie have opportunities to grow and succeed in life.

Everything Drake said was music to the family’s ears. But there was just one question that hadn’t been answered.

“The dad looked at me and said, ‘If I choose to bring Katie here, will you still be here next year, the year after that, and so on? We want her to have a home away from home?’” Drake said. She is the organization’s Director of Program Development. “I remember saying, ‘Absolutely. We will be here for as long as you and Katie need us to be here.’”

Fast forward to today, and that promise is as strong as ever. Katie, now in her 30s, is a happy, vibrant, and beloved regular at Special Abilities of North Texas, which happens to be celebrating 30 years in the community. Formerly known as Adult Day Care of North Texas and Day Stay for Adults, Special Abilities of North Texas serves an average of 70 adults per day ages 18 and up with various developmental disabilities, including Down Syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy — giving them a place to go during the day where they can grow and be surrounded by friends. Many have been there longer than Katie and can’t imagine being elsewhere.

“I’ve been here for over 13 years, and it’s been special to see how much we’ve grown in terms of the number of clients we serve and the type of services we provide them,” Drake said. “In June alone, we served 94 people. Some people are with us for a short time, but there are others who were here on my first day all those years ago. You can see their growth — even with something as basic as feeding themselves. That’s something we are going to continue working on with them for their entire lives.”

She added, “Stability is important; they know what to expect each day and can rely on having the same people in their life.”

Special Abilities of North Texas believes persons with disabilities are one of the most underserved populations and should enjoy the same rights and opportunities for pursuing happiness in life. To that end, a huge part of Special Abilities of North Texas’ mission was to create a place to go during the day when they were away from their families.

The programs they offer run the gamut, too. This includes inclusion and social development initiatives such as volunteering with public organizations and participating in activities such as trips to the zoo and grocery store and attending sporting events. Learning about independence is also huge, as they are trained in everything from money management to shopping, personal care, and home living.

Their pre-vocational and vocational training program helps develop and improve customer service, clerical work, custodial maintenance, and inventory control skills. Creatively, persons with disabilities have fun uncovering their hidden talents, including creating beautiful works of art. Lastly, Special Abilities of North Texas is dedicated to helping its members improve their overall health and routinely have Zumba and yoga instructors visit their facility during the week.

“All too often, people forget those with disabilities they went to high school with grow up and still need ongoing support in their lives as well as places to go and people to socialize with,” Drake said. “Most of the individuals we see still live at home, but 25% live in group homes locally and are brought to us during the day to participate in many of these programs.

“We do a lot here, but none of it could be done without the community stepping in like it has.”

While the promise to be here today, tomorrow, and for years to come is as strong as ever, the reality is that fundraising is a huge piece to ensuring adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities always have their home away from home. State funding through Medicaid waiver programs does exist for organizations like Special Abilities of North Texas. But that funding breaks down to a shockingly low $24 per client per day. Special Abilities of North Texas raises funds through its annual gala, online fundraising, grants, and individual donations to bridge the gap and ensure it always has enough staffing and supplies.

The gala is its signature event. This year, it is slated for August 26 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Flower Mound. The theme is Denim & Pearls, and their goal is to raise $150,000 — all of which will be poured right back into the organization’s programs and staffing needs.

“We are looking forward to celebrating 30 years with this gala,” Drake said. “We serve so many amazing and gifted people, but the reality is that we still have over 70 people on our waiting list. Events like our gala help us expand what we do and help even more families who see the value in what we do and want their loved ones to be involved.”

To learn more about Special Abilities of North Texas, including its upcoming gala and ways to donate, visit specialabilities.net.

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