Local Organization Fosters Confidence & Independence In Those With Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

Times have changed, and that’s a good thing. Sixty years ago, those with developmental delays didn’t get much, if any, assistance to help them along the way in life. But in Hendricks County, at least, that all changed in the late 1950s when several families in Danville who had children with special needs joined forces to create an organization that would offer services to their sons and daughters. The group was formalized in 1959, and additional families joined.

Now known as Sycamore Services, Inc., it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization devoted to providing individualized training and services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities by increasing their independence and enhancing their quality of life.

“In 1959, most of the children had intellectual disabilities,” says Aimee Ketterer, Sycamore Service’s Director of Community Relations & Business Solutions. “But as the needs and issues facing the kids in the group grew and changed, the group grew and changed, and they began serving students with a wider variety of disabilities.”

As these children grew into adults, it was clear that additional services were needed. That’s how the employment services division got started. Sycamore Services branched beyond Hendricks County several decades ago and now serves close to 30 counties in central and southern Indiana.

The organization provides a variety of services — everything from a First Steps program, which provides speech, physical, behavioral and occupational therapy to those up to age 18 to transition planning for older students, which are essentially supported internships where students learn job skills and work in the real world during their senior year. They have partnered with the state of Indiana government center downtown for Project Search.

“We had one student who went through the program working for Suzanne Crouch, an auditor for the state,” Ketterer says. “When Suzanne moved to the Lt. Governor’s office, she invited him to move with her because she said he was one of the best hires she’s ever had.”

Ketterer says they hear that same sentiment from many of their employers who are impressed with the work ethic they see from those with special needs.

“People with disabilities take their jobs extremely seriously and are very enthusiastic about doing a great job,” Ketterer says. “We hear time and again that they are among the best employees because their attitude is outstanding.”

Sycamore Services also offers a Day Series program, which is a type of supported work center that is designed for those who are more severely affected by their disability and therefore require more assistance on a regular basis.

The supported Work Center is in between Day Services and Employment Services. About 70 adults come to the work center every day to learn job skills such as sorting, counting and packaging. It’s considered pre-vocational. Though some stay in the Work Center for decades, others ultimately transition into Employment Services and eventually land jobs in the community.

Sycamore Services also provides residential services for those who require some assistance with cooking, cleaning, budgeting and managing medical appointments. Finally, they provide respite care for primary caregivers so they can have a few-hour break to shop or just take time for themselves.

“People with disabilities are just like you and me in that they want to be a part of community and hold down a meaningful job,” Ketterer says. “They want to get up, go to work, be productive, live a normal life and have as much freedom as possible.”

Job coaches (called employment consultants) at Sycamore Services work one-on-one with applicants for a “discovery period” where they carefully prescreen applicants for employers to determine the best environment for them. The applicants may do some job shadowing, practice interviewing, conduct a skills assessment and even do a trial run with an employer.

“We identify their skills and interests and learn what motivates them,” Ketterer says. “We ask, ‘What do you want to be? What do you want to do?’

“We want to help them grow and become more independent so we listen carefully to what they say,” Ketterer adds.

For instance, if somebody expresses an interest in washing dishes at a restaurant but they don’t have the speed necessary to work in a fast-paced environment, the job coach will assess their skills and guide them into something similar that is a better fit. The whole point is to help ensure that the applicant succeeds.

Last fall they placed a bright student named Ben in the kitchen of an assisted living facility. Though he had a photographic memory, he was directionally challenged, which made it difficult to deliver meal trays to residents given the number of hallways that all looked the same. Ben’s supervisors came up with a numbering system, labeling the food trays to correspond with the hallways, and it worked beautifully.

“The staff is thrilled and so is Ben,” Ketterer says. His supervisor told Ketterer that Ben says he wants to work there forever. He’s found his home.

“When we’re able to match up someone to a job that’s a great fit, it’s a beautiful situation all the way around,” Ketterer says. “Especially when you consider that we’re building confidence in these individuals because sometimes they have abilities that they, themselves, can’t see until we identify them.”

Ketterer shares the story of a nonverbal gentleman with autism who possessed an amazing ability for numbers and number sequences. He was placed in a role where he was able to identify a major computer glitch within the state’s system because he had memorized number sequences as he was doing data entry.

“He recognized that these numbers had come through before and that it was a huge programming error,” Ketterer says.

One of Ketterer’s favorite stories is of Anna, a woman in her mid-30s with Down Syndrome who started out working with Sycamore’s Day Services with the long-term goal of finding a job and living on her own.

“After a few years of working in Day Services, her personality started to bloom,” Ketterer says.

She landed a job bussing tables at Chili’s and this past year was promoted to hostess.

“She’s so excited that she gets to work up front and greet people as they come in,” Ketterer says. “She has the neatest personality. She’ll talk your ear off, which is funny when you think of how shy she was initially.”

Anna is a true success story as she moved into her own apartment where she cooks her own food, does her own laundry and makes her own bed. 

“Think about how differently things would have gone for someone like Anna 50 years ago,” Ketterer says. “A lot of people never would have given her a chance. She might have been institutionalized or lived with family her whole life and no one would have given it a second thought. It’s amazing how far we’ve come and the opportunities we’ve been able to provide for people with special needs. Because it’s not all about the disabilities. They really do have amazing abilities.”

Sycamore Services, Inc. is located at 1001 Sycamore Lane in Danville. For more information, visit sycamoreservices.com or call 317-745-4715.

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