SIRS day program expansion a community effortAugust 28, 2019
By CANDY NEAL
JASPER — Participants in Southern Indiana Resource Solutions will see more opportunities for learning at SIRS’ Woodlawn Drive location in Jasper.
With the help of a mission group and the local community foundation, the building’s layout has been reconfigured. Offices have been moved together into one side of the building and the open space left is being used to expand the day program.
“This doubled our size; we have a lot more space now for our day program,” said Angie Anderson, vice president of community services. “It’s a better use of our space.”
SIRS, which is in Dubois and four other counties, supports individuals with disabilities on their journey toward independence.
“It’s all about community partnerships,” Anderson said, “helping individuals develop goals, and providing services that are in line with their goals. We believe people with disabilities should have equal opportunities for recreation, living and employment.”
The day program is one of the services offered by SIRS. Participants can learn different life skills, get help with integrating into community activities or learn skills for a specific kind of job they may be interested in working at some point. The day program operates five days a week. And there is an after-school program on Tuesdays.
As more opportunities are provided and individualized, the goal is to serve more people in the day program. Up to 10 people can participate in the program at one time per one staff person on site, though SIRS likes to keep that number at eight participants per one staff person, Anderson said.
“Our goal is to increase the number of people we are serving on a given day and bring in an additional staff person,” she said.
The program was once contained to a big room in the back of the building. But now it has expanded into another a large area that connects with the original area.
“What we kept hearing from parents is that we need more space for our day program,” Anderson said. “More individuals wanted to utilize the service.”
This also fell in line with a new rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “There is a home- and community-based settings rule that says that individuals receiving services must have access to the same community resources as individuals who do not receive services,” Anderson said. “So the folks we serve should have the same access as we do.”
The idea is that community is more than a geographical location. “Community is a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals,” Anderson said.
So it goes beyond scheduling a specific kind of class at a certain time and having people take that class. It’s more so about providing the kinds of services a participant is interested in and teaching skills he or she wants to learn.
“It has to be about the person,” Anderson said. “And there is a way to do individualized services in a group setting. You put like-minded people together with common interests, common likes. And you develop programs and develop opportunities around that.
“Our role is to provide opportunities for individuals to engage in community life.”
To do more of this, SIRS needed space. And since it can’t afford to purchase a bigger facility, staff knew they needed to consolidate office space at the Woodlawn building. It was going to take them months to come in on their off time to move things around.
But a mission group named the Catholic Heart Work Camp selected the SIRS building as one of its projects. A mission team came in mid-July and moved all of SIRS’ offices into one area and painted the inside walls.
“They got done in one week what would have taken us months to do,” Anderson said, “and saved us all of that money (to get the work done) by volunteering their time.”
The changes opened up space next to the day program room.
And this month, the Dubois County Community Foundation gave SIRS a $12,000 grant to finish the expansion. That includes electrical work in the facility, widening the opening between the two areas to make it more fluid, installing a new front entrance that is compliant to current Americans with Disabilities Act rules, and other updates to bring the facility up to current code.
“A lot of updates the building needs would not have been possible without that grant,” Anderson said.
The new area has a kitchen and space that can be used for other programming, depending on what participants are interested in. There is also a respite area for people who may want to be alone for a while.
“It’s all about the person. We take a person-centered approach with all the services we provide,” Anderson said. “The struggle has been providing person-centered individualized services in a group setting. This rule is really forcing us to make it happen, and change the way we’ve more commonly done things in this industry, which we are absolutely in support of.”
The staff is talking to participants to find out more about their interests.
“We are working with our participants and their families, and polling them,” Anderson said, “to learn what their interests are, and make it more about what they want to do and what they want to learn.”
The staff is also considering new ideas. “We area looking to have people come in to provide different kinds of classes that participants can take if they want,” Anderson said. “We’ve talked about having a yoga instructor come in and do a yoga class, and people who want to participate can do it. Or have someone come in and host a cooking class, and if they want to participate, they can.
“We want to make the opportunities available, based on their interests.”
And those opportunities will change as interests change.
“The idea is not for this to be the last stop for participants,” Anderson said. “As they develop these skills and move on to bigger and better things, we will get a [new] group in. So the opportunities may change, depending on what the folks want to do.”
But what opportunities are available will be based on the participants.
“It has to be directed by them. It can’t be directed by us,” Anderson said. “And that’s the way it should be.”
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