Ben Baldwin is a hard worker. It’s clear he’s passionate about his responsibilities and enjoys it.
At Shining Light Music Store, he carefully wipes down each piano. He is attentive to get each key and removes objects to pick up all the dust. At Taco Bell, he re-stocks sauces while greeting customers. Regulars often smile and stop to visit.
With the help of Developing Potential, Baldwin gets to share his friendly smiles and his precise attention to detail with the community.
“We customize the job to the individual. It’s all about the individual and what their hopes and dreams are,” said Lori Oxborough, program director for Developing Potential.
Oxborough said they approach employers in the Lee’s Summit community and share with them what the individual can offer. The process is person centered, not employer centered.
As a right of passage after high school, many students leave the nest and head to college or the work force, but for those with special needs the transition to adulthood becomes a bit tricky. Students with special needs attend high school up to the age of 21 and then graduate. Non-profit agencies like Developing Potential offer to fill the gap for those young adults to continue growth for those with special needs.
“Each has an annual individualized plan, with family or service coordinators and they evaluate what they want to learn, social skills, hygiene, health and wellness try to create a well rounded approach geared in an adult manner. We work to develop an adult lifestyle for whatever level they are at,” said Amy Cox, for Developing Potential.
Brightly colored flecks of paint fill a blank canvas, and young adults smile as the picture begins to take shape. A little rat-a-tat sound hops off the canvas with each fleck. Sunshine bounces off the glasses of one young man as he watches and lets out a laugh. Each person takes at turn flicking a sponge at the canvas until the little flecks run together. It’s time to let it dry, and the group heads inside.
Meanwhile, a group of three gathers and fills red grocery bags for Harvesters. Each one passes an item down the line, and the person on the end fills the bag. Quickly the bags fill up and the group high fives one another upon their completion.
Individuals at the day-services program participate in many activities, from yoga, to scrap booking, painting, physical therapy and community service. Each individual works with a group of peers and a staff member to continue to develop their skills and reach their goals.
Developing Potential began in December 1993, with eight individuals in downtown Kansas City. It has since expanded to Independence and Lee’s Summit. The program now serves over 150 individuals overall with 25 in Lee’s Summit on site and 15 off site. The Lee’s Summit office opened two years ago. There is currently a waiting list of 65 people.
“We partner with Lee’s Summit school district to help families to know where to turn when a child graduates. We have individuals 14 years old already on a wait list so they will have a spot once they are out of school.” Oxborough said.
With spots in high demand, parents and staff members advocate for more funding at the state level. And Cox advocates at a local level as well with area service groups, like Lee’s Summit Kwanis, who recently made a donation for a new smart board. A smart board is a large touch screen teaching tool that would benefit the non-verbal individuals as well as others. DPI is only one-third of the way there on the funding for the board.
Community involvement is very important to individuals and staff at DPI. The service projects are lead from ideas of the individuals themselves.
“We see getting our individuals out in the community for service projects as a huge benefit for the community, to see an individual with special needs doing well in a positive setting is a wonderful thing.” Cox said.