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Special needs, special people

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Mountain Community Pathways provides variety of services for developmentally disabled adults

By Deb Hurley Brobst

To paraphrase a proverb: There’s a place for everyone, and everyone has a place.

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No truer words could describe Mountain Community Pathways, an Evergreen program for adults with disabilities. The program, in its third year, provides a place for those with special needs to learn, grow and make friends for six hours a day, five days a week.

It also operates a home in Evergreen for three developmentally disabled clients and provides a home host provider network so developmentally disabled adults can live in homes other than with their families.

MCP is pretty comprehensive. Think of the day program as part camp, part school, part social club.

The clients gather at Church of the Hills Mondays through Fridays, and the program has grown into a large family whose members have varying personalities and abilities.

The 28 participants range from people with mild developmental disabilities to those in wheelchairs who need nearly constant care. No one has ever been turned away.

The group gathers for morning meetings, learns new things based on a monthly theme, makes crafts and meals together, and takes field trips — and everyone participates.

During July, as clients learned about the history of Evergreen, they traveled to the Humphrey History Museum and to Evergreen Lake to go paddleboating. They visited a home on Bear Mountain owned by Ben and Judy McComb, where they had a picnic lunch, groomed a horse named Cadillac and took rides on an ATV. They made replicas of Evergreen historical sites, such as the bell tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, using bottle corks.

MCP is a state-approved business, and program fees come primarily from Medicaid, according to Cindy Reynolds, co-manager of the program. It’s rare that a family privately pays the program fees, she said. Each client has a case manager, and all have individual goals.

Joan Wilson, Reynolds’ business partner and co-manager, said MCP’s clients stay active.

“They cook; they clean. We teach them adult daily living skills,” Wilson said. “It’s not just a program where they hang out.”

It’s the organization’s philosophy that those with special needs should be in the community.

“We are very active,” Reynolds said. “We have a lot of staff. Our ratio for the most part is one (staff member) to three individuals. A lot of that is because we’re inclusive.”

Program director Kim Agnew, who worked more than a decade as a special education teacher, assistant program director Valerie Saker and the rest of the staff are dedicated to working with this special population of adults.

Parent Marilyn Broughton is thrilled with the program. Her son, Drew, attends the day program and also lives in MCP’s house.

“Everyone belongs together,” Broughton said. “Drew is labor intensive. In the day program, he’s friends with people of all different needs. They are visible and very active, and that keeps everyone engaged and physically moving.

“The staff, the volunteers, the staff at the house — you couldn’t ask for people who cared more about your loved ones and who love what they do,” Broughton added.

Mountain Community Pathways works side by side with the special populations program for young people through age 21 at the Evergreen Park and Recreation District.

Maren Schreiber, EPRD’s special populations coordinator, agreed that an adult program was needed in Evergreen.

“I think it’s good that it’s a year-round program, and it’s always great for people with disabilities to be with their friends and have activities,” she said.

MCP clients participate in Schreiber’s Special Olympics teams in bowling, track and skiing.

The Canyon Courier followed program participants several times in July to learn about the program. The clients in the story are mentioned by first name only in keeping with HIPAA laws.

Many clients, many personalities

Clients who attend the program enjoy camaraderie with friends and counselors. There’s an easy-going dialog, and counselors ask regularly about the participants’ home lives and activities.

With special-needs adults, especially those in wheelchairs, the group operates on its own time. The morning meeting, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., usually starts later, but no one minds.

The clients are diverse in personalities, likes and dislikes:

• Teresa is 54, and while her mom lives in Conifer, she lives with a home host family in Pine Junction. When Teresa first came to the program, she used a walker, but now she loves to hike.

“I have fun,” Teresa said about the program. “We play games, listen to (counselor) Kate (Wellington) and go on field trips. I like to go anywhere (Kim Agnew) plans. I like to do craft things. I like to help the other clients here.”

• Even though Jon is in a wheelchair, he’s always moving. But while Jon is traversing a room, he’s listening to everything and will chime in when he has something to say.

“I just like moving around,” said Jon, 32, who is from Evergreen. “I get bored, so I like to move around.”

• Kristie, 52, lives in Morrison with her brother and sister-in-law. She proudly talks about her family and her three cats, Mouser, Cupcake and Love.

• Chris is co-president of the Aktion Club, a service club sponsored by Blue Spruce Kiwanis. Chris, 34, lives in Evergreen with a home host family. He loves to hang out with his friends and go bowling.

“I like to talk to people, to socialize with other people,” Chris said.

Answered prayers

For families of the special-needs adults, Mountain Community Pathways’ day program and home-living program are godsends.

“It’s an answer to our prayers,” said Ann Yetzbacher of Evergreen, whose daughter Holly, 37, lives in the MCP home.

“The programs have provided consistency for Holly over the years,” Yetzbacher said.

Holly speaks little, but she can communicate her wishes. She loves her dolls, which are in a basket in the living room of the house, and she prefers that they be organized.

“At the house, she’s well cared for,” Yetzbacher said. “I don’t worry about her at all. I never dreamed we would have a house for her in Evergreen.”

She said the program was “huge” for her and her husband, because as they get older, it becomes more difficult to care for Holly.

“It’s so close,” Yetzbacher said of the house. “It’s a blessing.”

Marilyn and Jack Broughton, Drew’s parents, agree.

“My dream for Drew is that he could stay in the mountain community and not have to be moved down to Denver,” Marilyn said. Mountain Community Pathways has made that possible.

Drew, 35, needs a lot of physical assistance, and as the Broughtons are getting older, they appreciate that someone can carry a lot of that load for them.

“It’s more independent for him,” Marilyn said. “We are involved in his life, but we now get to do the fun stuff. When he comes home for the weekend, we’re feeling it (physically) by the end of the weekend.”

Marilyn said the outings that are part of the day program help Drew be engaged and curious about life.

“The activities that they provide help him continue to be mobile and have an active and engaged adult life that any parents would want their child to have,” Marilyn said.

Always expanding

Mountain Community Pathways was born out of a program at the Seniors’ Resource Center, where Wilson and Agnew worked. Reynolds, after years as an insurance agent, became a home host provider for a developmentally disabled young man.

The three met, and they realized there was a need for a comprehensive program for adults with special needs in the foothills.

“We didn’t know we’d have so many people so soon,” Reynolds said. “The amount of need has been eye-opening.”

MCP began as a day program, and buses were purchased to help get clients to the church. Clients come from as far away as Idaho Springs on the north and Kenosha Pass on the south. A bus drives every day to both Idaho Springs and Crow Hill near Bailey to pick up clients, including the client from Kenosha Pass.

Within a year of opening, they realized there was a need for a home, so they found a place for three clients to live. The home has three bedrooms and room for a certified nursing assistant. Three CNAs share the responsibilities of caring for the clients 24/7, as well as shopping, cooking and cleaning.

Kelsey Dudding, the on-site supervisor, said the house is a place for the residents to relax after a busy time at the day program. A 2007 Evergreen High School graduate, Dudding called her work humbling.

“It’s nice to see how they love their lives,” Dudding said. “They are always smiling and looking at their lives on the positive side. The energy in this house feels so great.”

The last piece of the spectrum of services is home host placement, where individuals live with other families who provide care. It leads to more independence for the clients and can provide respite for families.

Robbie Glantz, a home host provider, is pleased with the way Mountain Community Pathways serves its clients.

“They are compassionate, kind, accountable and respectful,” said Glantz, who is an ethics educator. “They have an ethic of compassion. It’s person-centered. I think they help people be the best they can be. It’s a blessing to this community.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.