ELIZABETHTOWN — “Dream big, and we’ll help you accomplish your goals.” Such is the mission of a local group dedicated to helping individuals ages 18 and above with Intellectual Development Disorder, or IDD.
Monarch is a non-profit organization that provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance use disorders. Its Elizabethtown site — Bladen Opportunities Unlimited — helps individuals with IDD learn to function in their environment and engage their community.
People with IDD experience significant limitations in two main areas: intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. “Significant limitations in intellectual functioning” is defined as having an IQ score below 70. “Significant limitations in adaptive behavior” is defined as limitations in social and practical skills that most people have learned in order to function in their everyday lives.
Bladen Opportunities recognizes that all people, including those with IDD, have dreams, and they seek to help those dreams come true for the twenty-six individuals they serve.
Damon Heath, program manager at Bladen Opportunities, explained, “If we can get someone here closer to their personal goal or dream, we want to help them. We ask, ‘What can we do to help them improve their lives?’ because they might not have the skill or ability to do that.”
The process of finding out what those dreams are may be somewhat challenging when dealing with people who may not be able to articulate those goals.
“We do that our whole lives — make assumptions — but we (the staff) need to put ourselves in a naive position to not make assumptions about their dreams,” Heath said.
Therefore, the agency is in the practice of asking individuals what their goals are and tailoring the programs to those goals as much as possible. The nine staff members teach classes such as gardening, cooking, arts and crafts, and exercise and health. In addition, educators from Bladen Community College teach academic classes ranging from colors and shapes to measurements. The Home Extension Office sends someone out on a weekly basis to educate individuals about nutrition and shopping.
In addition to offering classes, the agency seeks to help individuals interact with their community in meaningful ways.
“We are creating chances to get out and normalize with people in the community,” Heath said. “We want to add value back into the community.”
The agency is constantly asking questions, such as what, for example, does it mean to “engage the community?” Some ideas and practices include volunteering weekly in a local crisis center and two thrift stores, going to the senior center to sing or play bingo, bowling, museums, or going out to eat.
“We want to invite ourselves into the community to give folks here something meaningful to do,” said Heath.
Ron, one individual served by the organization, is finding meaning helping out around the agency.
“I do janitorial work, take forms, clean, go to different classes, mop, clean the kitchen and classroom tables,” he said. He added that he likes to keep busy doing work, and that his favorite things are going places to eat and sweeping.
Heath commented that, while the people on staff strive to improve the quality of the lives of the people they serve, the quality of their own lives is increased by serving.
To get involved, call Bladen Opportunities at 910-247-6344.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.