Grant aids rec therapy for developmentally disabled adults

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public affairs | January 26, 2007

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Posing here in the Luxor casino in Las Vegas is part of the group from the Munroe-Meyer Institute that went to Las Vegas thanks to a grant from the Enrichment Foundation. Left to right in the front row are Brian Davidson, Kevin Miller and Amanda Schraut. Left to right in the back row are Sarah Churchill, Stephanie Baird, Brian LeFebvre and Linda McNeil.
UNMC's Munroe-Meyer Institute has received a $422,000 grant from the Enrichment Foundation to launch a recreational services program for adults with developmental disabilities.

The grant has provided start-up funding for five recreation services for adults with developmental disabilities, a full-time recreational therapist and a new 15-passenger coach bus with room for four wheelchairs.

The funding is a godsend, said Michael Crawford, Re.D., director of recreational therapy for MMI.

"Though funding for recreational therapy programs for children with developmental disabilities is adequate, once children turn 21 years old, funding is diminished," he said. "Recreational programs are dependent entirely on private donations."

The five recreational services funded by the new grant include: Vacation Club -- which facilitates day and overnight trips; Community Outing Club -- which includes concerts, sporting events, movies and bowling; One-to-One Leisure Coaching/Companion Club -- featuring recreational and leisure classes or events in the community; Social Dining Club -- which includes dining experiences in the Omaha area; and Wheel Club -- which highlights biking experiences for individuals, family and caregivers.

On Jan. 20, Vacation Club took its first airplane trip when four adults with developmental disabilities and four staff members left on an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas for three days. The group took in the sights and sounds of Vegas, including two concerts. Staff provided one-on-one supervision.

Other overnight trips have included a trek to Kansas City for a Chiefs football game and another to Minneapolis/St. Paul for a Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game. The Vacation Club has also sponsored day trips to fun parks in Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City.

The Enrichment Foundation, in its third year of operation, provides funding to more than 20 area human services agencies in Douglas and Sarpy counties for adults with disabilities. Last year, the foundation provided services for 848 people, foundation president Connie O'Neil said.

O'Neil is passionate about providing recreational services for adults with developmental disabilities. Her sister, who died in October at age 52, had cerebral palsy. Her mother, Peggy Cowdery, who died of cancer, was one of the founders of MMI. "She worked for years to build it," O'Neil said.

O'Neil used part of her father's estate to ensure her sister had a home in which to live. Once her sister was established in a home, she recognized the lack of recreational programs and made a commitment to do something about it.

"I wanted to continue to doing something. This was a way for me to help adults with absolutely no outside activities in which to get involved. Thanks to Dr. Crawford, who has the ideas and knowledge to put the funds to work, the funding is the easy part. Putting it together and keeping it going is the hard part," O'Neil said.

In the first six months of the grant operation, more than 300 program enrollments have been processed providing multiple recreation opportunities to 67 different adults. "It shows how desperate they are for something to do," O'Neil said.

Sarah Churchill, the MMI adaptive therapy specialist hired through the grant, said she is excited about the opportunities the new funding provides.

"The programs give parents and caregivers much needed free time," Churchill said.

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During their vacation, Linda McNeil, Stephanie Baird and Brian Davidson learned about the excitement of Las Vegas while strengthening friendships.
Kevin Miller, 28, is one of the lucky vacationers who went on the trip. He had new clothes, a camera and spending money. His mother, Carol Miller, was a little apprehensive about Kevin going on vacation without his parents for the first time.

When Kevin was 1 year old, he was diagnosed with mental retardation and an accompanying seizure disorder.

"It's wonderful that this foundation gives people with disabilities an opportunity for a vacation," Carol Miller said. "We can hardly believe it. Kevin's never gone on a trip without us. Kevin's two older brothers can't believe their younger brother went to Las Vegas. They don't think it's fair."

The MMI Recreational Therapy Department provides recreational services in a safe, supervised setting and allows respite for families and caregivers of those with developmental disabilities. In addition to the new clubs, activities include arts and crafts, music and swimming.

Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of severe chronic conditions caused by mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities have problems with major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help and independent living.

Developmental disabilities generally occur between birth and 22 years of age and usually last a lifetime. There are more than 200 causes, including genetic conditions and by trauma sustained at birth or during an accident.