BETTY WATERS, firstname.lastname@example.org
Leatha and Sonny Kopech were unhappy the program they were sending their special needs adult daughter to only set participants in front of a television all day.
The parents wanted Kalyn, 27, who has a neurological disorder and mild cerebral palsy, to stay active mentally and physically and to interact with the community.
They found Achieving Dreams. It is a nonprofit day rehab serving special needs adults with various physical and mental disabilities which arranges for them to go into the community for unpaid prevocational training, to participate in exercise and receive other support.
Miss Kopech was the first female enrolled in Achieving Dreams after it started operating in March 2014, housed at Shiloh Road Church of Christ.
For her mother, who works as a legal assistant, and her father, an equipment specialist for the federal government, knowing their daughter is in a safe place at Achieving Dreams, going out to perform community service and getting exercise is a comfort and heartwarming.
“She is very loved and very cared for while we are at work so that we can continue to make a living and not have to depend on other services to support our family,” Mrs. Kopech said.
“She comes home every day and tells us what they did and where they are going the next day,” Mrs. Kopeck said. “Achieving Dreams is an amazing program. It gives parents, whose loved ones go there, peace of mind because our loved ones are being taken care of.”
Achieving Dreams now has 15 clients, called achievers, some of whom come five days a week, some come three days a week and some come two days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. It has two paid employees and several volunteers.
Karen Rumbley’s son, Scotty, 27, is autistic. “He is a very sweet young man and loving, but he will always be a 5-year-old,” she said.
He goes to Achieving Dreams two days a week. His mother likes the program because it does not just babysit clients and they get to perform community service.
“This is the right place for him; the people know him and they know how he ticks,” she said. “They (the staff and volunteers at Achieving Dreams) are just like family.”
It gives Scotty a few hours on Wednesdays and Fridays to be with his friends, do community service and have a break from being with her, said Mrs. Rumbley, who quit work as a bank teller 20 years ago to take care of her son full-time at home.
“Sometimes he and I get on each other’s nerves,” she said. While Scotty attends Achieving Dreams, Mrs. Rumbley catches her breath and enjoys quiet time, sewing or crocheting, watching television or preparing to teach a Sunday school class.
“It’s been good for both of us,” Mrs. Rumbley said.
Wayne Boshears, retired principal of St. Louis School, and a few other retired educators developed Achieving Dreams as a day activity program for special needs adults.
“We wanted them doing activities within the community each day, being mentally and socially stimulated and more physically active, than in many day programs, where special needs adults end up sitting all day, working crossword puzzles, coloring and watching television,” Boshears said,
The main purpose of Achieving Dreams, Bettie Clancy, board president, said, is for adults with special needs to have a meaningful purpose for their daily living.
The organization’s mission is to enrich their lives by providing opportunities and support within the community. “We look beyond disabilities, focus on capabilities and expand possibilities,” states its mission statement.
Every morning, achievers sign their name as if they are checking in for a regular job, put their lunch in the refrigerator, sit down for a devotional, prayer and a talk about rules. Achieving Dreams has about a dozen rules, such as keep your hands to yourself, follow instructions, talk in a quiet voice, keep your eyes on God and always work with a smile on your face.
Then the achievers load up in a van donated by Shiloh Road Church of Christ and head out to a different location every day for prevocational training at businesses, which have agree to be community partners for Achieving Dreams by letting the special needs adults perform community service on their premises.
The Achieving Dreams program provides a place where special needs adults can go weekdays, take pride in going to work, feel good about themselves and feel good about going out and helping others, said Jan Alderman, program director.
The program encourages them to be more independent and the achievers love making other people smile when they walk into a place to work, she said.
On Mondays, the achievers go to the Smith County Medical Alliance Auxiliary, where they sort and sack books donated for the auxiliary’s book fair held twice a year to fund scholarships for students in the medical field attending Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler.
“They do a fantastic job. They clean and vacuum. Some dust shelves. The main thing they do is box up all of the books each week, which is a big job.” Sylvia Orten, chairman of the book fair advisory committee said.
“They have been a blessing to us because they do so much work during the year that nobody sees. They do a tremendous job for us,” Mrs. Orten said.
On Tuesdays, the achievers go to a store operated by East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network. They dust, vacuum, put clothes on hangars, fold pants and shorts, sort shoes and other chores.
“They’re an incredible and wonderful, loving presence in our store,” Becky Duncan, of Cornerstone, said. “Everyone loves to have them here with us.”
On Wednesdays, the achievers go to Rotolo’s Pizza, where they roll silverware in paper napkins, wipe tables and chairs, fold and wipe menus and fill cheese and pepper jars.
Similarly, the achievers go to El Charro on the Ridge on Thursday to roll silverware in cloth napkins. On Fridays, they go to Times Square Movie Theatre, while it is empty, to wipe cup holders, spray and dry the front and back of seats and chair arms and clean windows.
Back at the Achieving Dreams center in Shiloh Road Church of Christ, the achievers roll plastic knives and forks in napkins for take-out orders at Bruno’s Restaurant.
After lunch, they walk around the gymnasium. Ten laps is a half-mile, but they walk 15 times in an effort to fight obesity.
Later, the achievers play the card game Uno, read or participate in other activities before going home.