Local Agency Helps Those with Developmental Disabilities
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
For years, Traci Gibson worked as a home intervention specialist for First Steps, an early intervention program that provides services to young children who have developmental delays or disabilities. With a master’s degree in special education and applied behavioral analysis, she was trained for such work and thrived in her field. When she and her husband Jon had children, two of whom had developmental disabilities, she was well aware of what they needed.
The problem was that so many others in the community were also in dire need, and after being put on various waiting lists for therapies, Gibson decided to do something about it.
“A lot of agencies are enormous and it’s hard to get your calls answered,” says Gibson, who opened Embracing Abilities in October of 2018. “I saw a need for a more family-focused provider agency. “We put faces to the services. We have direct connections to those who provide the services for their loved ones.”
The organization started with a handful of people and a goal of working with 30 families. They added therapy services the following year and rented an office space in Plainfield, but outgrew it by April of 2019 so the following month they moved to a location in Avon between the Town Hall and Avon United Methodist Church. The leaders took the old house on the hill down to the studs and rebuilt it to create an outpatient clinic with musical, recreational, behavioral, occupational and speech therapy.
“Our little 30-family goal was great, but we grew exponentially and surpassed that in two months,” Gibson says. “When we hit our two-year mark last October, we were serving more than 700 families.”
The staff members are currently gearing up to renovate the back part of the lot to build an inclusive and adaptive playground for the community this spring or summer.
“Typical playgrounds don’t fit every child,” says Gibson, noting that it will not be a playground strictly speaking, but rather an “experience ground” with outdoor musical instruments, as well as sensory and balance improvement activities.
Embracing Abilities serves a wide age range, from babies to elderly clients. Currently, their youngest is 2 and their oldest is in his 70s. Gibson shares how rewarding it is to provide caregiver support so individuals can focus their energies elsewhere from time to time and have a break. For example, perhaps a parent wants to attend another child’s basketball game but they have an autistic child who can’t handle bright lights and loud noises. Maybe a mom and dad haven’t enjoyed a date night in months because they are constantly tending to their child’s behavioral and medical needs.
“Having someone come in and allow caregivers to take a break is so important,” Gibson says. “It’s a wonderful feeling in your heart to know you are impacting people in a positive way.”
Embracing Abilities offers a number of programs, including the Reach program, Summer Camp, Winter Camp and Parents’ Day Out. Last summer, due to COVID-19, they offered a hybrid virtual option for summer camp, but in normal times children meet up with their counselors to swim, go to a movie theater, attend a play, or visit a honey farm – different activities that are not always possible for families to participate in when they have other children because the excursion proves to be too overwhelming.
Throughout the pandemic, the staff has been pleased to offer therapy virtually.
“They still sing, dance, do art, talk about their feelings and do interactive things on the screen,” says Gibson, whose own daughter lives for the one-on-one interaction with her therapist at Embracing Abilities. “As a parent, it’s nice that our kids still have that connection because they have lost so many connections over the last year.”
Though the pandemic presented its challenges, Gibson is thankful for the way her staff and families were able and willing to adjust.
“It’s just learning a new world, but I feel positive about the ways we’ve been able to support people even with the curveballs that kept coming,” says Gibson, who felt a lot of pressure with 300-plus employees and 700-plus families all counting on her to make the right choices.
She often hears from family members who express their gratitude for the way Embracing Abilities has positively affected their entire family’s life.
“I’ve gotten messages that say, ‘I want to let you know that I’m in tears. I couldn’t do this without you guys,’” Gibson says. “That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Gibson is quick to acknowledge that she couldn’t have gotten this far without the outpouring of community support. For instance, when the staff members were building their clinic kitchen and had ordered IKEA cabinets that needed assembly, she posted a plea on social media, asking for volunteers.
“A number of people showed up who had no connection whatsoever to our organization,” she says. “They sat on the floor of the gym and helped us build.”
In November, they collected bottle caps in order to turn them in to a plastic plant and purchase buddy benches and picnic tables. When they posted the request on their marquee, individuals began dropping off hundreds of bottle caps daily.
Gibson’s favorite part of the job is seeing and hearing how their services affect clients. When the children come to the office or are dropped off for camp, their faces are beaming with enthusiasm – and they’re not the only emotional ones. Parents sometimes cry because they are so moved by the love and commitment on the part of the staff. One mother told Gibson, “I’ve tried multiple summer camps and have never seen staff that is so excited to work with my son.”
One family from Hamilton County makes the drive every day so their boy can attend summer camp at Embracing Abilities.
“That real-life feedback is what makes everything worthwhile,” Gibson says. “In the end, that’s why we are here – to better the lives of people with disabilities and also better the life of their families.”
The Embracing Abilities office is located at 6748 East U.S. Highway 36 in Avon. For more information, call 317-825-8326 or visit embracingabilities.com.