“Making a difference daily” is the motto for the New Advances for People with Disabilities organization, a nonprofit that focuses on providing services and support to those with intellectual and/or mental disabilities.
The organization offers classes and opportunities to help clients through social and behavioral activities.
It’s about “gaining confidence in who they are as a person,” said Samantha Kelley, NAPD program director with the Center for Creative Achievement.
The classes offered through the organization help them reach their goals, as each client has a reason of their own for being there.
“It helps people with disabilities have a home away from home. They have a safe environment they can come to daily, whether it be Breakfast Club, our day program, or APSS. We don't send clients home because they’re having behaviors or a bad day. We talk about the situation, re-direct, explore why they reacted the way they did, and put their social skills into practice,” said Norma C. Tuiasosopo, a direct support professional with NAPD.
The organization’s staff meets clients where they’re at and focuses on strengthening their unique skills and interests. For some, like Benjamin Dirks, it also helps them find jobs.
“It helped me get out of my comfort zone,” said Dirks, adding that he was able to break through his shyness and open up more.
He worked in a dougnut shop prior to COVID-19, but due to restrictions, wasn’t able to continue with that, and NAPD helped him find a new job.
“We do make a difference in our clients’ lives by being there and offering these classes,” Kelley said.
Making a difference in the lives of their clients is what fills Aerial Mendez’s heart with joy in her role as a direct support professional.
“It makes me glad to know that the participants are being seen and heard in each class, creating a lovely memory for them and giving them a learning experience among friends,” Mendez said.
The classes offered to clients include activities such as Zumba, cooking, art, history and more. Prior to COVID, clients were also able to attend outings for sports, including bowling.
“I love all of the classes actually. I like all the things we do there, because it’s fun,” said Dominique Fout, one of the NAPD clients.
Fout looks forward to the program every day and seeing everyone, adding that she always has a smile on her face.
“I learned stuff I didn’t know how to do. It’s really helped me a lot.”
More than new skills and a variety of classes, it’s also about “community integration — exposing them to people,” said Kelley.
“We are a social program. We focus on clients being able to use their social skills daily. When needed, we redirect inappropriate behaviors and we show our clients how to use these skills outside of the program, too. So, when they go to a store or a restaurant, they can use them there, as well. It may come easy to you, but some of us need practice,” added Tuiasosopo.
As someone who also has disabilities, Mendez hopes to inspire every participant to do their best and know that they can do great things and make a difference in the lives of others.
“It really helps the community to feel cared for, appreciated, and heard. Anyone in life wants to feel heard and seen and NAPD really hit the nail on the head on that,” added Mendez.
While all activities and classes have shifted online, they will be making their way back to in-person in July, which the clients are very excited about.
“I can’t wait to physically go back,” said Jared Cheeseman.
Not only are the clients friends with one another, they’ve connected with the staff, as well.
“I have a lot of friends there, I’m friends with all of the staff,” added Cheeseman.
“The staff is very nice and I love all of the staff there, and even the classes. I would recommend it to anyone,” said Fout.
“They’re marvelous people and they're a great help,” said Dirks.
Tuiasosopo added that the organization is a place where they can be surrounded by their peers and feel comfortable being themselves. Some are also lifelong acquaintances.
Kelley hopes the programs will help remove the stigma of disabilities, so that people see that their clients are people, just like everyone else.
“I want people to know that disabilities don’t make people less or different. I want our community and really everyone to understand that our clients are caring, kind, smart and wonderful human beings,” said Kelley.