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NBA Woodhaven will celebrate 10 years off-campus (8/25/06)

By Heidi Bright Parales, DisciplesWorld contributing writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. (8/25/06) — Penny, a resident of NBA Woodhaven, was generally unhappy--she didn't have many friends and never smiled, according to Marj Spiva, who has been employed by Woodhaven for more than 20 years.

At the time, NBA Woodhaven, in Columbia, Mo., was a campus-based program for people with developmental disabilities. NBA is the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

When NBA Woodhaven began transitioning into a community-based program, Penny was one of the first to move out of the institution and into community housing.

“Almost immediately after moving into community housing, she started smiling,” recalled Spiva. “She even became friends with her two roommates. In fact, the three ladies still live together today.”

On Nov. 10, NBA Woodhaven will celebrate its 10-year anniversary of successfully moving its residents into community homes and apartments. This way of providing services for people with developmental disabilities allows for much greater independence, according to Mark Palmer, CEO of NBA Woodhaven and NBA Serra Center. “The progress that has been made in the last 10 years is truly remarkable,” he said.

The move began during the early to mid-1990s. For those who moved into the community, things worked beautifully, said Palmer. “People were responding to having individualized plans, to living with not more than two other people of their choice, to feeling they had a home and to making more choices about their lives,” he said.

Spiva said the staff could see the difference in people's lives within two or three days of moving into private homes and apartments, not only with the high-functioning people who had expressed wanting to live in the community, but with everyone.

“Immediately, behavior issues went down, people were happier, maybe even more so with the lower-functioning individuals; they knew it was their home,” she said.

Spiva recalled Brandon's response. “Not long after moving into his house, a staff member was making dinner for him and his roommates. Brandon (who is nonverbal) came over and started making hamburger patties with no prompting or instruction. He'd never tried to help with cooking or housework before. The staff believed that it was because he knew he was in his own home that he wanted to help out.”

After witnessing the success of the first individuals who moved, NBA Woodhaven's board of directors adopted the vision that with the right support, every individual served by NBA Woodhaven could live in a rented home or apartment in the community.

During the next two years, NBA Woodhaven moved most of its residents into the community. A few guardians insisted that some individuals remain on the campus, and these clients stayed in a new eight-plex apartment that continues to be operated by NBA Woodhaven on 17 acres at the site of the old campus, said Palmer.

The transition was completed in 1996, when NBA Woodhaven moved its administrative offices off campus to its current location. Today the NBA Woodhaven administration building serves as a hub for the more than 45 homes and apartments, providing services to 102 individuals with developmental disabilities.

Success continues within the program. Brenda, an individual served by Woodhaven, recently said, “Living in my house is so nice. I get to go a lot of places and do a lot of things. I was happy when I moved here because it meant I could do what I want.”

Robin, another individual served by Woodhaven, said, “I was so happy when I moved to my house because it meant I had a home.”

Palmer said having individuals with developmental disabilities integrated into the community makes Columbia, with a population of about 90,000, a richer and more diverse place to live.

“I think the individuals served by Woodhaven add a lot to this community. They are good neighbors, friends, employees, customers and church members,” Palmer said.

Although moving to community-based services was not easy, it was well worth the effort, he said. “People didn't realize how independent individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities could be until they gave them a chance. The men and women served by NBA Woodhaven were up to the challenge and continue to gain new skills, find new opportunities, and achieve greater independence every day.

"For those who do need a higher level of care, receiving services in a community setting gives them more dignity and more choices," he said. "Looking back on the last 10 years, we consider the move to community-based services a great success.”

Part of this success was created by the support of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “We have received so much support through the years on a national level,” said Palmer.

NBA Woodhaven did not need to raise a lot of extra funding to make the move to community-based housing. “In fact, it is more cost-effective to serve individuals with disabilities in community housing than in an institution,” said Palmer.

However, one challenge NBA Woodhaven faced was finding enough accessible housing for the individuals served who use wheelchairs.

“We solved this challenge through a $600,000 capital campaign in 1998 to build two fully accessible homes for six individuals in wheelchairs,” said Palmer.

NBA Woodhaven also built eight specialized houses through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants.

During the most recent national accreditation survey, NBA Woodhaven received three-year accreditation, which is the highest level a program can receive.

In addition, NBA Woodhaven received an exemplary commendation for its efforts to provide accessible housing for the individuals served, said Palmer. “I think this shows how far we have come in 10 years.”