GOSHEN — Of the roughly 7,500 residents of Elkhart County diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities, less than a quarter — 23 percent — are receiving supportive services.
The figure, provided by Tammy Friesen, CEO of local faith-based ministry Goldenrod, is partially why Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch visited the nonprofit’s Goshen facility Friday morning.
“My goal is to create a blueprint for a better system,” Crouch said in her address to about 40 people, including state Sen. Blake Doriot, state Rep. Tim Wesco and Goshen Chamber of Commerce President Nick Kieffer. “And I don’t want a report that sits on the shelf. I want a real game plan, and we need to have a plan with a concrete vision on how we can meet the needs of those individuals and their families, but also a plan that holds those that are involved accountable.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this plan has to center on employment. It’s the No. 1 issue we hear about from people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Crouch said the last assessment was completed in 1997.
“So a lot has changed since then, and now the state is moving forward with coming up with a plan for the future,” she said.
Crouch, a longtime advocate of those with special needs, said the state’s current efforts to assess services and supports spawned, in part, from Enrolled House Bill 1102.
A piece of legislation from the 2017 General Assembly, the bill established a task force for such assessment, which will assist in developing recommendations and strategies for “a 10-year comprehensive plan to be able to increase options and to increase the quality of service that we provide for those individuals,” Crouch said.
While concrete solutions have yet to be crafted, Crouch said offering incentives for Hoosier business owners employing special-needs workers is a possibility.
“They show up to work on time. They take limited sick time. And what some people might think is a small and tedious task, they do it right over and over and over again. People with disabilities brighten the morale of the whole work environment. They have lower workers comp claims,” Crouch said. “And all of these facts we need to be sharing with businesses far and wide.”
Asked what she believes is crucial to a successful 10-year plan, Goldenrod’s Friesen was quick to note a “person-centered” approach.
“Everything that comes out of this plan has to be person-centered,” Friesen said. “... Focusing on total community inclusion is extremely important.”
Unlike group homes, Friesen explained Goldenrod promotes and provides supportive living, allowing clients to operate independently with as-needed assistance in the home.
A common misconception, Friesen added, is Goldenrod services are primarily for adults. On the contrary, clients can be as young as 2, with about 70 percent of the nonprofit’s services falling within family practice, she said.
PROACTIVE IN PARTNERSHIP
Goldenrod is presently collaborating with Northridge High School and Horizon Education Alliance, a Goshen nonprofit developing pilot projects to design, test and adopt solutions to improve local education outcomes, according to its mission statement.
“Partnering with Tammy Friesen and Goldenrod helps us to think about the holistic approach — the support structure for all people in the community,” HEA Director of Facilitation Jason Harrison said of the inclusive effort.
Harrison explained the organization implements multiple initiatives for the lifespan, working with young students, adults, those in higher education and others.
Initiatives include joining with high schools and local organizations to create experiential learning opportunities which can translate into high school and college credit, paid work or accreditation toward certifications and degrees.
“(Goldenrod staff) come to work with some of our students currently,” Northridge High School Principal Drew Wood said of the “relatively new” partnership. “And it’s really about getting them out in the community, getting them a job. We’re working on things now that can hopefully lead to something in the future, when it comes to a pathway. I’m really excited about as we expand this to more students.”
Northridge students have previously linked with Middlebury manufacturer Arbor Industries Inc., Wood said, assisting in the business’s production process.
“They also do a great job of character training while they’re there, you know, developing a strong workforce. It might be something similar,” Wood said of the partnership possibilities.
Without offering a definite timeline, Wood said Northridge’s program is expected to begin at freshman level when fully active, following similar criteria used in the school’s graduation pathways to determine student inclusion.
“We are already looking at anybody going through our schools currently in the graduation pathway. So we want to measure them in that regard so they can graduate with that,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to look towards.”