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Three Agencies Offer Hope to People with Disabilities: Good News Giving

Posted December 19, 2015 in Articles

Ashley Perez, 20, made herself so indispensable during an internship at Cleveland Clinic that her bosses didn't want to see her leave.

The Digestive Disease Clinical Research Unit at Cleveland Clinic created a fulltime job for Perez, who is hearing impaired, after getting to know her during an internship sponsored by Project Search, a job training program run by United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland.

Perez does filing, runs errands, sends out patient surveys and many other tasks. "I like it all!" said the upbeat Perez, who reads lips and uses a sign language interpreter during staff meetings.

Perez credits United Cerebral Palsy's program for helping her find employment. "I fight for my independence," she said. "I'm proud of myself for being here and getting this job."

Three Northeast Ohio agencies -- The Up Side of Downs of Northeast Ohio, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland and Milestones Autism Resources -- offer support and education to people with disabilities and their families.

They are among 25 area agencies being supported in the third annual Good News Giving campaign sponsored by The Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group. The campaign features stories about these agencies during the holiday season, offers a means for donating to them and provides them with free advertising in The Plain Dealer and Sun News, and on cleveland.com.

Information about these agencies, plus a link to their websites, is posted on the Good News Giving website: cleveland.com/goodnewsgiving. The site features the logo of each agency, a description of its mission and how to make a donation.

United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland

United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland serves clients in Northeast Ohio from birth through retirement with any kind of developmental disability -- not just cerebral palsy, said Trish Otter, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. "It's a huge spectrum of people," Otter said.

The organization's mission is to promote independence, productivity and inclusion in the community. That includes early intervention for infants and children's therapy, adult residential and vocational programs, therapy and help for school districts in assessing children with disabilities.

Project Search, the program that helped Perez, lets disabled young people spend their last year of high school learning employment skills and practicing them in job internships. Project Search trainees perform work in retail, clerical, information technology, restaurants, child care, janitorial and other fields. "Our clients want to work in the community," Otter said.

The agency's annual $10 million has stayed flat over the last five years, Otter said. Reader donations will allow United Cerebral Palsy to offer special pediatric therapy to disabled kids, and allow the agency to continue serving families regardless of ability to pay.

The Up Side of Downs of Northeast Ohio

While she was pregnant with her daughter Audrey, Danelle Eikens of Middleburg Heights learned that the chances were high that the child would be born with Down syndrome. When the diagnosis was confirmed at Audrey's birth, the hospital gave Eikens a brochure from the Up Side of Downs of Northeast Ohio.

Without Up Side of Downs, "We'd have been lost," said Eikens, 45. "We would be in our own little world. I don't know what we would do without them." The family includes her husband Joe, 51, and daughter Payton, 12.

As Audrey grew, the family also participated in Up Side of Downs community outings for people with Down syndrome and their families, including trips to Cleveland Browns and Indians games. The best part is "hanging out with people (who are) not judging my child," Eikens said.

The Up Side of Downs serves people with Down syndrome and their families living in 16 counties in Northeast Ohio, from birth to death, said new parent and family support coordinator Laurie Kowalski. The organization serves about 900 families and professionals annually with a yearly budget of $460,000.

Reader donations will help with Up Side's new educational program for doctors and new parents, and grants of up to $600 for medical and $300 for recreation purposes.

"In some families, (therapy) is considered a luxury if insurance doesn't pay for it," Kowalski said.

Milestones Autism Resources

High school was a lonely experience for an autistic girl like Molly Dann. Diagnosed when she was in sixth grade, Dann, 21, had trouble reading nonverbal cues and following conversations. She had no friends.

"I was depressed and I didn't know what to do," Dann recalled.

Her mother reached out to Milestones Autism Resources for help, and Dann joined the agency's Roadmap to Adulthood Project. The mentoring she received at Milestones helped her graduate from Beachwood High School in 2012 and connect with peers.

Now Dann enjoys a lively social life that includes a best girlfriend. She works at a law office, has her own apartment in Strongsville and is applying to colleges to study education.

The mission of Milestones Autism Resources is to improve the lives of people with autism, education, coaching and connecting with strategies to help improve their lives, said Milestones co-founder Mia Buchwald Gelles. The organization offers family and individual coaching and consultations, as well as training for school districts, agencies and professional organizations, with its $750,000 annual budget.

Milestone's help allowed Dann to set goals for the future, which include becoming a national speaker on autism. "I want to tell my story," she said.

Original Article: https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2015/12/three_agencies_offer_hope_to_p.html

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