We don't always know what the next stop in our life is going to be. Vicki LaRoche certainly didn't. And she never fathomed that she would create it.
She and her husband Stu have three children, two who are developmentally disabled. Gwinnett County Public Schools provided well for their needs, but then they graduated and lost a big part of their support system.
"When these young adults age out of the school system at 22 years old, life changes drastically for them and their families," LaRoche said. "I remember thinking someone should create a program for them and then realized that someone was me. It was like a spiritual calling."
It was in 2007 that the LaRoches founded The Next Stop, a program to help high-functioning, but developmentally disabled, adults continue their personal growth and enjoy a social life among people who identify with their situation. So far, The Next Stop, housed in the Suwanee Sports Academy, has helped more than 60 young people live a fuller life.
"When the school bus stops coming, when opportunities for learning and socializing dry up, we step in. We become the "next stop" in the development of our members," La Roche said.
Success stories include Rebecca, who is an excellent reader, but could not translate written instruction into action. After joining The Next Stop, she surprised her mother by creating a microwavable snack and cleaning up afterward, something private occupational therapists could not teach her to do.
"And then there's Kristina," LaRoche said, "who thrived during her time in the Gwinnett County school system, but sunk into a depression requiring medication once that consistent social interaction disappeared. After just six months at The Next Stop, Kristina was getting back to her 'old self' and within one year of she was off her meds."
The Next Stop is staffed almost entirely by dedicated volunteers including occupational therapy students from Brenau College.
"We learn a lot from them," LaRoche said. "Learning life skills is a big objective, but mainly we want this to be a fun place to be."
And speaking of fun places to be, that's exactly what The Next Stop is raffling off in its latest fundraiser: Two tickets to Super Bowl XLVII plus $2,500 in cash. Each raffle ticket costs $25. The total number of tickets sold will not exceed 2,500, giving you a great chance of winning. The drawing will be on Jan.10 and you don't have to be present to win. You can buy tickets online at www.thenextstop.org. Whether a free trip to the Super Bowl is the next stop in your social life, your contribution will help many young people transition to their "next stop."
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at email@example.com.