LARSON: The Next Stop: Super Bowl?

Stu and Vicki LaRoche

Stu and Vicki LaRoche

We’re all familiar with those conventional milestones in life: graduation, first job, kids, first home, kids’ graduations, empty nest, retirement. But some couples who follow those standard steps never make it to the empty nest phase. Stu and Vicki LaRoche didn’t.

The LaRoches have three adult children, two of whom are developmentally disabled. Gwinnett Public Schools provided well for their needs, but when they graduated they lost a big part of their support system. And they are not alone. A recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control revealed that roughly one in six of all children in the U.S. has a developmental disability.

When these young adults age out of the school system at 22 years old, life changes drastically for them. And their families. Prolonged homebound isolation often reverses all the progress the schools had made with them.

“I remember thinking someone should create a program for them and then realized that someone was me. It was like a spiritual calling,” Vicki said.

Her calling conveniently converged with Stu’s retirement from United Parcel Service, where he had worked for 34 years. Yes, they may never see an empty nest, but together in 2007 they created their own milestone with The Next Stop, a program to support families like theirs.

“When the school bus stops coming, when opportunities for learning and socializing dry up, we step in,” Vicki said. “We become the “next stop” in the development of our members.”

So far The Next Stop has helped more than 100 young adults live a fuller life. Many have accomplished things in this friendly environment that occupational therapists were unable to teach them in private sessions.

The Next Stop, located in the Suwanee Sports Academy, receives no government funding and is staffed almost entirely by volunteers who last year donated nearly 3,000 hours. It is also the preferred intern opportunity for Brenau University occupational therapy students and even provides internships for local high school students.

“We learn a lot from them,” Vicki 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 their latest fundraiser: Two tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey 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. 14 and you don’t have to be present to win. You can buy tickets online at: www.thenextstop.org or call 404-932-3953 for more information about the raffle or the program.

Whether or not a trip to the Super Bowl becomes the “next stop” in your life, your support of this raffle will help many young people and their retiring parents progress to The Next Stop in theirs.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.