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HOW DO THEY DO IT?: Stevens Center helping people live independent lives

Sanford Herald - 1/2/2019

Jan. 01--Stevens Center Executive Director Roger Bailey, who joined the organization in 2004, said the job meshes well with his belief system: "We're all just people."

The center serves people with disabilities and helps them become more independent and included in the community, Bailey said. The Stevens Center is located at 1576 Kelly Drive, Sanford.

Bailey recently talked about the Stevens Center and how the organization serves the disabled community.

What is the Stevens Center's mission?

Our goal is to assist people who have a developmental disability to be active, included members in the community. Developmental disability means it's a significant disability starting before the person turned 22. It's easy if someone's born with a disability or incurs a disability early in life to, in our minds, sort of halt their growth.

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Our goal is to expand that horizon so that we see adults as adults and we see that there's a place in our community for everyone.

Who do you serve?

We serve people essentially from birth through end of life. We start at Stepping Stones Children's Center which provides licensed child care. As a child grows, we go into home-based services, recreation services in the community.

Are their eligibility requirements to receive your services?

For a good portion of our services, there's eligibility based on agencies that contract with us. We work with Vocational Rehabilitation, they have guidelines. We work with Sandhills Center, they have guidelines.

We offer a whole lot of recreation programs that are generally free and are open to the whole community. One of the things that makes the Stevens Center unique is most agencies that have a mission to assist individuals who have disabilities focus exclusively on that group. Often times what they'll do is provide a facility-based service.

The Stevens Center's mission is to include people in the community so most of our services are in the community. Then what we do is invite the community to come here.

Why is it important to involve the community?

Because if we provide the best services possible in our facility but haven't changed the community where someone actually lives, how much have we actually accomplished?

How do you incorporate the community?

The licensed child care center next door, Stepping Stones Children's Center, is exactly that -- licensed child care. We make a point of including children who have disabilities but it's just a licensed child care center.

For about 50 people living in Lee and Harnett counties, we provide home-based services so our goal there is to help a person learn how to do shopping in their community, to use recreation in their community. We've supported people who have taken classes at the community college but need someone to assist them in that.

The sorts of things we do here within our building, we do summer camps that are age-based and open to everyone in the community based on age. We're developing recreation programs, concert series, movie series, line dancing, exercise classes that occur here but again are open to the whole community.

Our perspective is if we host an event that only includes people who have a disability, we've not been successful. And if we host an event that doesn't include a person with a disability, we've also been unsuccessful. The idea is to bring people together.

What is the WINNERS program?

That's a program that we do in conjunction with Vocational Rehabilitation. They have to have a job-related impairment and (Employment Specialist) Beth Bray's job is to match their skills with a job in the community.

What makes that successful is we all have job strengths, and we all have things that could get in our way. She does an excellent job of matching what someone can do with a need in the community.

What is the Connections program?

That's the only program that is housed out of here. That's designed for adults who have a developmental disability that do not receive publicly funded services. They're people who, typically without that support, would be staying at home.

This gives people a place to come, a reason for getting up in the morning and also is really heavily based on people volunteering in the community, people still accessing the community recreation services or leisure services, going to the library, going out to eat, those sorts of things.

Are people with disabilities glossed over?

You see it all the time. You see it in this community until people have opportunity of changing their attitude. I only half joke that people who have a visible disability sort of have a force field around them that keeps people at a certain distance. Until you've given yourself the opportunity of interacting with a person with a disability, most people have this apprehension about, "How am I supposed to act and how are they going to act?"

The Stevens Center helps bridge that and once people begin interacting, you so quickly see, "OK, this is just a person." It might be a person who doesn't talk. It might be a person who doesn't think as quickly as someone else or doesn't walk but you see what they share in common.

Are there skills you want your clients to gain?

Our goal is to help people live as independent a life as possible. That means if you go to a restaurant, being able to decide what they would like to eat or if they're going into a fast food place, to be able to hand someone the money, place an order. It sounds so simplistic except there are so many people who have been conditioned because of their disability to be compliant, to get them to recognize as they grow and get those people around them to recognize as the individual grows that they should be given more and more opportunity to have a say in their life.

What's important for people to know about the Stevens Center?

Parents generally understand or feel if they receive a brochure from Special Olympics, if their child doesn't have a disability they say, "Oh, this doesn't apply to me." What I really want people to understand is when they receive information from the Stevens Center, if their child or the individual has a disability or doesn't, Stevens Center programs are open to everyone. It's just that we focus on making sure individuals with disabilities are included.

Reach Staff Writer Noah Grant at 919-718-1229 and on Twitter at @NoahGrantHerald.

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(c)2019 The Sanford Herald (Sanford, N.C.)

Visit The Sanford Herald (Sanford, N.C.) at www.sanfordherald.com

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