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Bridge of promise: New Valley academy aims to bridge gap for disabled people

Bridge Academy staff and founders relax on one of the giant beanbags that will make the Academy a relaxed and comfortable place for individuals with disabilities to work on their goals. Pictured from left are Sally Coomer and Cindy O’Neill, founders of the Bridge of Promise, Erin McCallum, fundraising consultant, and Amy Frentzen, director of the soon-to-open academy. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Bridge Academy staff and founders relax on one of the giant beanbags that will make the Academy a relaxed and comfortable place for individuals with disabilities to work on their goals. Pictured from left are Sally Coomer and Cindy O’Neill, founders of the Bridge of Promise, Erin McCallum, fundraising consultant, and Amy Frentzen, director of the soon-to-open academy.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Age 21 is a milestone for many young adults, and reaching it means official adulthood to them. For some, though, it’s a cliff, and reaching that age means going over the edge.

At least that’s how Sally Coomer of Carnation sees it, for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Up to that age, she explained, many such individuals receive state assistance with education and even job training, but at 21, most are no longer eligible. They can still get help, through organizations like the Special Care Agency, which Coomer and Cindy O’Neill co-founded, but Coomer says, their options are limited.

“In providing these services (in-home and respite care), we just found that there was a big gap, those services don’t cover allowing people the supports that they need to engage in the community and continue any kind of educational or life skills efforts,” she said.

Her agency had repeated requests for that type of service, and began exploring how to provide it, several years ago.

It’s all come together this summer, in the Bridge Academy, named for the Bridge of Promise Fun Fair event that Special Care Agency hosts each summer on Coomer’s property.  Bridge Academy is a sort of continuing education program for people with developmental disabilities, age 21 or older.  Opening this fall, the academy will provide ongoing education, as well as social skills development, community involvement opportunities, and, in conjunction with Special Care Agency, some vocational training, in addition to ongoing personal care, a unique offering in this type of business.

“That’s going to make us stand out,” said academy director Amy Frentzen, “our ability to provide personal care.”

Because the program offers half- and full-day schedules, as well as partial and full-week options, every day at the academy will be different, and focused on the clients’ needs, Frentzen said. Each session begins with a check-in and progress check on clients’ goals, because clients can begin losing their social skills and abilities to interact with the world very quickly once they are outside of an engaging environment like school, she explained.

Staff and volunteers will be needed at the academy every weekday and, Frentzen hopes, year-round. Because the needs of clients will vary greatly, the academy hopes to recruit volunteers interested in helping with, or teaching a variety of subjects, as well as caring for the clients. A fundraising effort is underway to raise $200,000, the estimated operating cost of the academy for one year.

• Bridge Academy opens on the first day of school this year, Sept. 3. Learn more at http://www.bridgeofpromise.org/#!bridge-academy-2/csyg.

Above, Cindy O'Neill, co-founder of Bridge Academy. Below, the rooms at Bridge Academy are designed to be comfortable and inviting for clients.

 

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