Hi-Hope helps disabled adults

Anyone who meets Randy will have a lasting memory of his warm smile and his gift for laughter. He is a man who exudes happiness wherever he goes. Randy exhibits a strong work ethic. He gets along well with his co-workers and his supervisors, is punctual and rarely misses work.

Randy began work at Hi-Hope Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, in 1990. Hi-Hope Service Center offers comprehensive services to adults with developmental disabilities in Gwinnett County.

By April 1991 he was a member of the cafeteria work crew, where his job duties consisted of preparing dirty plates for the dishwasher, manning the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, putting chairs on top of tables, mopping the dining and kitchen floors and returning the chairs to the floor afterward. He was paid based on his productivity level that exceeded time study limits for nondisabled individuals. This may not sound like a great feat, but you see Randy only has the use of one arm.

In June 2001, Randy went to work at Burger King on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth where he maintains the condiment area, cleans the tables, sweeps and mops the floors, and cleans the restrooms. Randy is a vital employee at Burger King where he earns more than minimum wage. Since his employment with Burger King, his smile has become wider, his laughter more hearty and his expressive verbal skills have improved beyond expectations.

Successfully employing individuals with developmental disabilities in the community is a longtime goal at Hi-Hope. However, as the economy slowed, finding employment where the interests and abilities of people like Randy could be considered, became more challenging. With programs tailored to the needs and desires of a diverse group of more than 130 adults, our compassionate and dedicated staff serves in the areas of Sheltered Employment, Community Employment, Day Habilitation, Residential and a variety of support services. Individual interests determine which programs and services will be chosen to reach unique personal goals - ranging from steady employment and social/recreational or religious activities to improved daily living skills

As a result of shrinking job opportunities, Hi-Hope Employment Program Manager Linda Hughes and her staff applied for a grant funded by the U. S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Five sites were chosen nationally to participate in the Training and Technical Assistance for Providers Program (T-TAP). Hi-Hope was one of the centers chosen and is receiving intensive training and guidance over a two-year period for the purpose of improving employment opportunities for Hi-Hope's clients.

Utilizing these training skills resulted in another success story. Staff members and Paul, a client, along with his mother, brother and pastor participated in a planning session with our T-TAP Trainers. Paul's interests, likes, abilities and aptitudes were discussed.

Key to the entire process was having people at this planning meeting that knew Paul and could help the staff develop a clear understanding of everything about Paul both in his world connected to Hi-Hope and also outside of Hi-Hope. As a result of this planning process employment ideas for Paul became broader than ever before. Subsequently, Paul was able to secure employment at Chuck E Cheese. Thanks to improved communication with employers client independence is increasing and job opportunities are improving.

Besides increasing job opportunities Hi-Hope has been developing programs at the center to meet the changing needs of the current aging population. An activity/senior center is under renovation and will be available for services in late spring. Additionally, Hi-Hope contracts with an outside agency that trains and coaches the day habilitation staff in the area of assistive technology for individualized communication skill building. The consultant, a former special education teacher, works together with a staff member and a client to develop activities that build independence through improved communication skills. The day habilitation program provides day services for the adults with severe and profound disabilities.

The Residential program is expanding and a fourth home opened in October. Residents live with others who have similar interests and abilities. Also, an older group of men live together in a "retirement" home. Their schedules accommodate a more slow-moving lifestyle. With the successful completion of Hi-Hope's first-ever capital campaign by December 2005, the construction of four additional residential homes will become a reality to ease a predicted national housing crisis.

As challenges in funding continue, employing creative methods for providing services are critical. Grants, donations and volunteers subsidize the shrinking county, state and federal funds that Hi-Hope Center receives. Furthermore, Hi-Hope clients pride themselves in their ability to provide many volunteer hours to the Gwinnett Community. Giving back to the community which they are all a part provides experiences for individuals with disabilities to truly be a part of their community.

Hi-Hope Center is located on Hi-Hope Road across the street from the Red Cross office in Lawrenceville. Volunteer opportunities are available for most any interest. Please contact the center (770-963-8694) or visit the Web site for more information (www.hihopecenter.org)

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Alice Cunningham, executive director of Hi Hope Center. She can be reached at 770-963-8694.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.