The Power of the Parent

By Jessica Judd, Grafton Adult Services Community Engagement Program Manager

Parents are fixers. It’s what we do. If something isn’t going right for our children, we take the bull by the horns and don’t let go until the problem is solved.

Back in 2004, a passionate group of parents recognized that there was a real need for more daytime options for their adult children with complex intellectual and developmental disabilities. These young people had aged out of the school system, but were not qualified for any work programs due to their need for supervision and support.

The parents, lead by Alix Cooper, Doug Cumbia, and Robert Hurt formed a subcommittee through their local ARC, a leading organization in disability rights. But even though the ARC was an important advocate, it could not provide the services their children needed. So these parents began researching other day programs. It quickly became clear that nothing existed, at the time, that met their unique needs. But that didn’t deter them.

If nothing currently exists, they thought, then we’ll develop the program we need. And that’s what they did, creating a solution that provided a person-centered approach to care. And that is how the Adult Day Activities Program Team (ADAPT) was born.

With the space provided by the local Youth Development Center (YDC), the next step was identifying the appropriate staffing assistance. And that is where Grafton entered the picture.

When the ADAPT board approached Grafton for assistance, we did not have a day-program for our clients. Individuals living in Grafton’s group home did not have a structured program allowing them opportunities to expand their experiences outside of the campus. At the time, I was in charge of two group homes, so I understood the benefit this program could have. It was clear to all of us that this was an ideal collaboration. I’m so appreciative of the vision, hard work and dedication of the ADAPT parents – they helped to identify an opportunity for Grafton to serve the community in new and important ways.

The ADAPT program began with only three clients. It grew rather swiftly, jumping to 12 clients within a year. Keeping the program up and running depended on the kindness and generosity of others, as well as an enormous amount of work by the parents who served on the board. Fundraising was necessary to cover the overhead and to expand beyond simply offering a space to providing activities such as arts and crafts, music therapy, and physical recreation. From organizing a capital campaign, to selling holiday cards and having fundraisers at local restaurants, the parents worked tirelessly to support ADAPT so that their children and others could thrive.

A major turning point came in the form of a community outreach grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia. This allowed us to expand ADAPT beyond the four walls of our facility, helping our clients to get out into the community through social, recreational, volunteer and skill development opportunities.

Currently, out of the 60 ADAPT clients, approximately 40 are participating in community outreach. Some are volunteering their time at churches, food banks and recreational facilities. Others are honing their skills at businesses throughout the community and have a very real chance of eventually securing employment. But the most important thing is that our clients have been embraced; they feel — and are! — appreciated and productive.

A key to ADAPT’s success is consistency. Nearly 90% of our program participants are also served in Grafton group homes. So they recognize and positively respond to the familiar, trauma-informed approach and our philosophy of comfort over control.

What also makes ADAPT unique is the use of Applied Behavior Analysis. Grafton believes in the program — and our clients — so much that it hired two Board Certified Behavioral Analysts to determine the most meaningful skill building opportunities for each individual in the program. We want to ensure that clients continue to grow and progress on their unique path, and achieve their potential.

One ADAPT client, John* is a great example. Before the program, John’s parents thought his learning and development had peaked in high school. He was turned down for work programs and sat at home watching television all day, every day. But once he entered the ADAPT program, his parents saw a transformation. John’s whole world expanded; he learned new daily skills, grew more confident in his abilities and was able to adapt to caregivers other than his parents. Today, John is involved in ADAPT’s Community Engagement program and, by all accounts, is doing great. His parents credit ADAPT with allowing John to make a smooth transition to his environment in a new group home.

ADAPT is reaching a new milestone – after 14 years, the board is dissolving, leaving Grafton to continue to run with this extraordinary program. These board members and parents have been the heartbeat of the program since its inception. They will remain involved and Grafton will keep them updated as it continues to grow. I wanted to take this opportunity to personally thank them: for their vision, passion and trust in Grafton. Never underestimate the power of a parent to affect real and lasting change.

*Client’s name has been changed.