This week’s Friday Focus takes us to Spring Dell Center, Inc. in La Plata, Maryland. We spent some time talking with Sheebah Smith about the work Spring Dell does to assist individuals with disabilities in our communities.
* Tell us about your organization (who you serve, etc.)
Spring Dell Center, Inc. has been dedicated to assisting individuals with disabilities in achieving their highest level of independence since 1967, by providing support and opportunities for the quality of life they desire within their community. Programs were initially developed with a focus of meeting specific needs for children with severe and multiple handicaps. In the early 80’s the Charles County Board of Education implemented a full inclusion program for children with disabilities, regardless of the severity, and they began to attend local schools, no longer needing supports in segregated settings. With the development of public schools programs for children with disabilities, Spring Dell Center’s focus transitioned to providing supports for adults. Currently the center supports over 200 adults, in Charles County, Maryland, with intellectual and physical disabilities, in addition to other very challenging diagnoses. The organization offers a number of services, ranging from residential assistance in 19 homes throughout the county, transportation and employment services, as well as social skill development and hands on vocational training. Aside from the Agency’s main services, the Hooks & Hangers Quality Resale Stores were established as training facilities used to educate individuals in the retail field as well as gain employment experiences. The revenue from the stores directly supplements program services.
The center’s programs also focus heavily on promoting the concept of “Community First” when delivering all supports and offering real experiences in the community. Programs have expanded to not only supporting individuals enrolled in the programs, but supporting critical needs of the county at the same time. Weekly, program participants and staff can be found supporting Meals on Wheels programs, coordinating pick-ups and deliveries for local food banks, assisting community senior programs and supporting many other non-profit ventures.
* What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
My favorite moment has to be attributed to our Movement and Wellness Program. The program is about five years old, but since day one, it was easy to see the changes and strides it has made in the lives of the individuals supported by Spring Dell Center. There is nothing else like it in the county! The program focuses on providing first time experiences with ambulation and exercise for those with the most severe disabilities. It promotes healthy living for individuals who lack mobility. The program is designed to enhance each person’s physical, emotional, spiritual and social life. It has been a privilege to see it work first hand.
My first experience with the program was witnessing a man who had been in a wheelchair his entire life, take his first steps at the age of 54. Shortly after, I had the opportunity to witness a 53-year-old woman stand up without her wheelchair and walk down Spring Dell Center’s hallway for the first time utilizing specialized mobility equipment purchased through the program. Walking past her in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t realize she was almost 6 feet tall. As I walked up to her with excitement, she quickly realized my small 5’2” stature and said “I could eat off the top of your head.” We then laughed, I congratulated her on her achievement and she continued walking off with a large smile, anxious to show others her accomplishment. These are the moments that not only bring tears of joy to your eyes but let you know everything you do to support these programs and the individuals utilizing them is worth it.
* What is your biggest challenge?
Currently one of the biggest challenges in the community is finding and securing employment for the individuals we support. Just as other businesses in the community, Spring Dell Center’s has felt the effects of a downward spiraling economy. Several of our individuals have been laid off and it has been hard to gain new employment. As the economy begins to once again regain its stability, we hope to find community business willing to give our individuals an opportunity. Job coaches have been working diligently to acquire connections and placement opportunities for individuals supported by our Supported Employment Program. As our community continues to strengthen its ties, we look forward to finding opportunities of growth for both surrounding business and the individuals supported by our programs.
* How can people really help?
It is the agency’s continuous goal to have individuals connect to the community and employment opportunities regardless of their disability. Therefore, any opportunity provided that can contribute to our mission of offering life changing experiences are welcome. What might be something small to you, such as going to the movies or fishing, could be the very opportunity someone has been hoping for! Providing a work experience or social opportunities that lead to friendships, is the key to self-fulfillment for all of us, to include people with disabilities. Additionally, volunteering and simply giving your time or providing an experience for someone is also gratifying for all, to include you!!! There are many other opportunities! We have fundraising events, sponsorship opportunities, and activities where we need the help of community members. If someone wants to help but doesn’t quite know how, I would love to sit down with them and come up with some ways that will benefit everyone involved.
* What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?
Think about what you enjoy doing. What makes you happy? Take those interests to a non-profit organization. Know their mission and see if it fits yours. There are many organizations with a variety of causes. Find an organization in which you have a passion for or for an opportunity to learn. I can’t explain how much I have learned from the individuals and staff at Spring Dell Center. Yet, I assure you what I have learned has been life changing.