What's New at CBH

Opportunities Unlimited – facing personal challenges, giving back to the community

11/21/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Joan Lucera

What crosses your mind when you meet an intellectually disabled (note - intellectually disabled, or ID, is the term used to identify an individual who has a medical diagnosis of mental retardation) person? Do you ever wonder what that person can or might do with their life, of what they may be capable? Just like you and me they are individuals with their own unique strengths, preferences, abilities, and needs. They can be more than capable of holding jobs (which you read about here in October) and volunteering their time and energy to various non-profit agencies around town. What's more, many of these individuals want to give of their time and energy and do so willingly, cheerfully and without complaint; they want to be contributing members of society. However, unlike those of us who are not diagnosed with an intellectual disability, they may not always be given that chance.

Opportunities Unlimited is Colonial Behavioral Health's Day Support program for adults with intellectual disabilities. The program provides personal, social and behavioral skills training in order to help these individuals improve the quality of their daily lives through self-empowerment, community integration and independent living. Services include activities that enable the individual to acquire, retain and/or improve their skills and abilities. Appropriate supports are provided to ensure an individual's health and safety. There are opportunities for peer, community, and social interaction through participation in activities that incorporate the individual's choices and preferences.

For example, there are supervised, group volunteer activities. These volunteer activities benefit many non-profit organizations in the community, including Grove Outreach Center, Erase the Need, Community Outreach at Sentara Hospital, Quarterpath Park, Dream Catchers Therapeutic Riding Center, Heritage Humane Society, Envoy Nursing Home, Waterman's Museum Garden Project, and Habitat for Humanity. Duties, days of the week and frequency of visits vary by site and needs of the organization.

One group of individuals volunteers at Dream Catchers, and we spoke with Executive Director Nancy Paschall. In her words, this particular group of volunteers, "has given so much here, and they love the horses. They are very industrious and take the job very seriously. They are welcoming and friendly, when somebody else comes into the building, (the volunteers) say, 'hi, how are you, we are glad you are here,' and it is their place." Nancy goes on to point out that Dream Catchers was created for people with special needs, regardless of what those needs may be - and not just to receive services but also to give back to the community. "They got new volunteer shirts recently and are really proud to be volunteers. It's human nature; we all want to give back. This group is very giving and we (at Dream Catchers) are not about what people can't do - we're about what people can do, and helping them reach their potential."

Here at CBH, we are grateful for the strong partnerships we have with other agencies in the community. These partnerships enable us to provide even better services for individuals in our community. We are also grateful for those individuals who serve as role models and daily reminders that maybe, just maybe, we can all reach our potential given the chance. So the next time we meet an intellectually disabled person, someone suffering with severe mental illness, or an individual struggling to recover from a substance use disorder…especially in this season of gratitude, may we all remember those who face challenges we cannot even imagine….and be open to facing our own with just a little more grace.

Joan Lucera is the Director of Community Relations at CBH and has been with the agency for close to five years. She holds a Master's in Criminal Justice Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked with many populations over the years in varying capacities, including children, adult victims of domestic violence and other crimes; and animals. First and foremost she considers herself an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves and who are treated unjustly or misunderstood.

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