Advocates for Special People Helps Intellectually Disabled Adults
Nine years ago, Steve Brooks and his wife Tracy suffered a significant family tragedy when her brother died unexpectedly. His son, Joel, was a 21-year-old special needs young man who had just graduated high school in Colorado and was now all alone. Steve and Tracy opened up their home to Joel and themselves to a whole new world of adult special needs individuals.
“That’s when we discovered Advocates for Special People (ASP), which was a Godsend!” says the 56-year-old Brooks, who is now the executive director of the Arlington-based organization. “ASP is now more than a job for me, it is a passion.”
ASP is a family support organization that utilizes three Special Connexion day habilitation programs to provide recreational, social and fitness activities for intellectually disabled adults. The organization helps these individuals access peer contact, increase movement and assists with integration and activities in the community through such outings as field trips to parks, movies, restaurants, museums and other educational experiences throughout the Metroplex.
“ASP currently serves 92 clients in the three Special Connexions day programs, an additional two dozen athletes known as the Arlington Eagles who participate in Special Olympics events, plus an additional 2 to 3 dozen who participate in seasonal dances, picnics and the Arlington July 4th Parade,” says Brooks.
Brooks explains that when a child reaches 22 years of age, most school districts and government provided education and socialization programs are no longer available because the child “ages out” of their courses. That’s why in 1997, a group of parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities formed Advocates for Special People, Inc. Their goal was to offer opportunities for their intellectually disabled adult children to participate in mentally and physically challenging activities with peers and the community. In 2002, ASP incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and continued with its mission to improve the quality of life of intellectually disabled adults and their families by providing programs for socialization, recreation and habilitation. Since 2003, ASP has offered the Special Connexion program, a “day hab” for intellectually disabled adults (ages 18-plus). To meet the growing needs of Arlington, in 2006 ASP opened a second location in north Arlington, and a third location in October 2013 in east Arlington.
“The main goal of Advocates for Special People is to provide extraordinary programs to improve the quality of life of intellectually disabled adults and their families by providing programs for socialization, recreation and habilitation,” says Brooks.
After Brooks initial involvement with the group following his family’s tragedy, he became a board member 8 years ago, then served two-and-a-half years as president, and last February, was hired as the group’s executive director. He’s excited and has big goals for the organization.
This is not a daycare program, explains Brooks. He says some other area organizations take that approach but ASP is unique. “Although other programs also provide a safe and supervised environment, their curriculum does not offer cognitive stimulation and social interaction opportunities as found at the Special Connexion sites.” The ASP approach provides educational and recreational programs at the three locations and in the community. The 1 to 5 staff-client ratio ensures progress on individual goals and more opportunities for activity. He says ASP offers several small groups so that clients can participate in varied activities, attend field trips, join exercise programs and enjoy peer-to-peer experiences and fellowship at the Special Connexion facilities and in the community.
To be eligible for the program, participants must be 18 years old or older and no longer attend public school. Says Brooks, “Participants must be able to feed themselves and manage their own personal hygiene. Established intake procedures require potential clients and their families to complete enrollment documents following an interview by the intake committee, which is comprised of Special Connexion staff and ASP board members who generally are parents of intellectually disabled adults. If the applicant meets program criteria, he or she is admitted to the program or placed on a waiting list.”
Numerous community groups lend their support to ASP. “In the past year collaboration has continued with Arlington Urban Ministries as our clients help serve their clients participating in the Mobile Food Pantry in conjunction with the Tarrant Area Food Bank. Our clients have rung the Salvation Army Bell at Dillard’s for Trinity United Methodist Church and have used the Salvation Army’s new facility for recreation,” says Brooks. During Special Olympics Texas Spring and Summer Games at the University of Texas at Arlington, the Wesley Foundation at UTA opens their campus facility and provides student assistance for lunches for their athletes and the Special Connexion clients.
Brooks is eagerly anticipating growth for the organization. He says he envisions establishing a residential community for special needs adults unlike any other in North Texas. “A cross, if you will, between a senior independent living community and assisted living, providing as much assistance as needed while encouraging as much independence as possible,” he says. The group has also been in talks with the Arlington ISD for the last couple of years about a piece of property they hope to become available. “We have a site plan for a community that could become a model for our state. A lofty vision, some may say a dream, but one that is desperately needed to serve the aging population of those intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) adults in need and their caregivers.”
Brooks says he would like for ASP to leave a legacy of making a significant difference in the lives and families of intellectually disabled adults by providing socialization, recreation, habilitation, and habitation for Mansfield, Arlington, and surrounding communities.
“Just one hug or high five from any one of our many clients can provide the satisfaction that we are together making an impact on those that need our services!” he says.
Written by Kerry Pipes
Personal Q&A with Steve Brooks
Steve Brooks spent 32 years working for AT&T (some of it back when it was Ma Bell). He’s been married to Tracy for 36 years and they have two grown children and two grandchildren. Today he is the executive director of Arlington’s Advocates for Special People, an organization that helps intellectually disabled adults. He’s been involved with the group in some capacity for nearly 10 years now. We talked with him and found out what interests him when he’s not at work – and about a famous relative of his. Here’s what Brooks told us.
What do you like most about the community of Mansfield? My favorite thing in Mansfield is seeing my grandsons at Katherine Rose Memorial Park.
How do you spend your free time? Hobbies? Interests? I am somewhat a geek on the computer but I do like to ride my bicycle, leisurely. I like to fix things and work around the house, though I seem to be behind.
Where do you like to eat in Mansfield? Joe’s Family Restaurant.
Do you go see movies? Which ones? Museums? Theater? I do not go to a lot of movies. I like to know which ones win Oscars. We go quite often to concerts at the Levitt Pavilion.
What’s the last book you read? The last book I read was Amasa Clark’s Journey: The Road from New York to Texas, a book of historical fiction about my great, great, great grandfather who was the first permanent settler of Bandera, TX. He wrote an autobiography at the age of 101, or actually told the stories which were penned by his daughter, Reminiscences of a Centenarian.
Do you have a favorite quote? Randy Draper who lives up in Grapevine wrote a book, Happy to Do It, Get Your ‘Snap’ On!, and I must say, “Happy to Do It!” is my favorite quote.
Who or what inspires you? Our clients inspire me with their overwhelmingly happy nature. Some of them just make me smile.
Do you travel? Where? Just went to the Special Olympics in College Station, then in February to Round Rock. Tracy and I went on a cruise this summer to Key West and the Bahamas. It was our third cruise but I must say the one before to Alaska may have been my favorite. We have been to Costa Rica a couple of times, going to Honduras in the spring, went to the Philippines in 2011 to see our daughter who served 27 months there in the U.S. Peace Corps.
Favorite drink at Starbucks? Black coffee!
One person in history you would most like to have lunch with? Amasa Clark, I grew up hearing stories from my grandpa who remembered him. I met one of his son’s and one daughter.
Belong to professional/community organizations? Arlington Downtown Rotary, Trinity United Methodist Men.
Awards/recognition? Advocates for Special People won the People’s Choice Award from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation at the Arlington Gives Rally for North Texas Giving Day on September 17.
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