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June 2020 | Special Edition

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Community Options believes in the dignity of every person, and in the freedom of all people to experience the highest degree of self-determination. Embracing this philosophy, Community Options provides housing and employment supports to people with disabilities. #AllItTakes

Special Edition: Meet the Leadership of Community Options

Learn about the Community Options Executive Team and some of their most memorable experiences with the organization. We’re thankful for their service and leadership, now more than ever, as they continue to handle the unique problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alan Rose - Executive Director, Charleston, South Carolina

Alan Rose - Executive Director, Charleston, South Carolina

Alan Rose
Executive Director, Charleston, South Carolina

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I grew up the youngest of six kids in western Pennsylvania in the town of New Brighton. My father worked at Conrail Railroad, hauled garbage from Bell Telephone sites, and owned a pool hall in Beaver Falls. Despite his many jobs, he always made time to help people in the community by filing taxes and completing financial aid packets for students so they could go to college. He did all of this with no formal education. My father always said, ‘If you can help someone, do it because you never know when you will need help.’ While attending Geneva College, I participated in the Special Olympics event hosted there. I was fortunate enough to present medals to the athletes with former Pittsburgh Steeler, Rocky Bleier. Since 1987, I have spent my career working with people with disabilities in numerous environments.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“My nearly six-year experience with Community Options has been more satisfying than any other agency that I worked for including my own business. Every staff member from the very top down are on the same page, putting the individuals we serve first. I have noticed that my work with Community Options not only affects the people we serve but their families and the community as well.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“Shane, one of the men we support in Summerville, loves baseball. In 2018, I contacted Charleston Southern University’s baseball coach about a possible job or volunteer opportunity for him. The coach agreed to have him work as an assistant to help prep the field and be the ball boy during the games. Seeing Shane’s face in his uniform socializing and being a part of the team was priceless. This is just one of many stories that we have witnessed as people move from crowded institutions to better lives in the community.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“We have been able to touch people in our neighborhoods who now see our individuals as neighbors and not just group home residents. The COVID-19 Pandemic has given us the opportunity to unite during these times. We are all experiencing the same challenges – staff, people we serve, and surrounding communities – as one. This has been true inclusion.”

Laconda Moore - Executive Director, Greenville, South Carolina

Laconda Moore - Executive Director, Greenville, South Carolina

Laconda Moore
Executive Director, Greenville, South Carolina

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. At the age of 14, my siblings and I began volunteering at a Special Olympics event at Furman University with my uncle who is a Furman Alumnus. I volunteered each year after that until I went to college. Our parents are servant leaders whether it’s at church with clothing and food drives or neighboring communities with missionary efforts. My cousin was deaf and during weekly family gatherings, I always felt that it was my responsibility to ensure that she not only attended the family gathering but was truly a part of the gathering. I began to learn sign language so that I could help her express her true self with the family. She is now a teacher for children who are deaf. Spending time with her helped me realize that a disability, whether mental or physical, can never hold anyone back from obtaining their dreams if they are self-determined!”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“In the past two and half years at Community Options I’ve enjoyed
learning and teaching others about treating people, ALL people with respect and dignity. The communities we are a part of are very giving and accepting when they are educated about the differences and similarities of the people supported. Our team believes in being transparent and engaging within neighborhood activities and gatherings. Greenville’s businesses have truly embraced the variety of abilities the individuals we support can offer. These men and women have found meaningful jobs they love and are dedicated to; just as any employee demonstrates when they love
their careers.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“We believe that each person we support brings their own unique values through their life experiences. We help them sift through their challenges, hurt, and pain to obtain a life of contribution within the community in which they live. We take a wrap-around approach in providing each person the desired and needed supports by first having an open and loving heart and then by encouraging them and our staff to think as if there is no box. In utilizing this approach, we believe and teach the men and women we support that their dreams can and will come true.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“I’d begin with gratitude! I am thankful for the many emails, calls, PPE donations, and loving support! To the community, family members, and HOA associations, your thoughtfulness has been so very much appreciated. We have the greatest ESSENTIAL staff and they deserve all the accolades and pay increases. I ask all of you to ask our State Representatives to please provide an increase or bonus for our heroes (our front-line staff) who come to work every day to provide care to our most vulnerable population.”

“We have the greatest ESSENTIAL staff and they deserve all the accolades and pay increases. I ask all of you to ask our State Representatives to please provide an increase or bonus for our heroes (our front-line staff) who come to work every day to provide care to our most vulnerable population.”

Lindsey Daniel - Executive Director, Columbia, South Carolina

Lindsey Daniel - Executive Director, Columbia, South Carolina

Lindsey Daniel
Executive Director, Columbia, South Carolina

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I was born and raised in Columbia, SC. During my childhood, I was taught by example to give back to my community. My family regularly made donations to the local food banks or homeless shelters. My mom would often make meals to give to the seniors in our church or family. My dad volunteered to coach little league baseball for years and would always give a ride to the kids that didn’t have a way to get to the ballpark. Once I started school, it was a natural transition to be active in all the service organizations. These organizations gave me the opportunity to help coordinate a prom for senior citizens in our community as well as volunteer with Special Olympics. I have always found it rewarding to help others. Being of service carried over into my adulthood which lead me to my career path.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“I began my career at Community Options 13 years ago. Being able to be a part of Community Options’ first group home opening in South Carolina was such a rewarding and powerful experience. Hearing from families and the individuals supported about the positive changes we have made in their lives is indescribable. Even though I was new to this field of work, I could see the difference we were making. The local neighborhoods and communities where the individuals we support live and work have been wonderful partners. We have found that a small minority of people have a ‘fear of the unknown’ but we step in to help advocate and educate people on individuals with disabilities. Every person deserves an opportunity to live and work in his or her community.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“Every person we support has a story that impacts me. We have some families who just want their loved ones to experience the natural progression of life and be as independent as possible. To be able to support the family and the individual in getting their own place or finding their first job is incredible. Often however, we are faced with situations where some of the most vulnerable members of society have been taken advantage of. Unfortunately, some of the people we support come from a dysfunctional family situation, were being exploited by someone they knew, or were lost in the criminal justice system. These are the most difficult stories, but these stories are not the only things that define them. What can we do to help that person help write the next chapter of their story? That is what drives us to be that individual’s teacher, supporter, friend, family, counselor, advocate, etc.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“I would ask that everyone show empathy. We are all facing challenges during this crisis. Individuals with disabilities are an extremely vulnerable group to COVID-19. Not only do they have pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable, they may also have a more difficult time understanding why it is important to practice social distancing and why they are not able to go to work or visit with family. If everyone follows the guidelines put in place, we can keep the most vulnerable members of our society safe. Our Direct Support Professionals continue to be frontline heroes who are working every day to keep the individuals they support safe and healthy. We are all in this together!”

“Every person we support has a story that impacts me. We have some families who just want their loved ones to experience the natural progression of life and be as independent as possible. To be able to support the family and the individual in getting their own place or finding their first job is incredible.”

Meika McClendon - Executive Director, Nashville, Tennessee

Meika McClendon - Executive Director, Nashville, Tennessee

Meika McClendon
Executive Director, Nashville, Tennessee

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I am a native of Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve lived in the middle Tennessee area all of my life except for my college years when I lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My mother and aunt were social workers. Both worked in the geriatric field and many of my childhood memories were of my mother and aunt caring for seniors professionally, but also spending time cooking and visiting with senior neighbors and church members. I was raised by my grandmother. She worked for Vanderbilt Hospital for over 50 years but also worked as a beautician in the evenings and on weekends. I spent much of my childhood in my grandmother’s shop. These three strong women contributed greatly to my work ethic and commitment to enhancing the quality of life of others.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“Community Options, Inc. has been providing residential and employment supports to individuals for 30 years. Community Options in Nashville will celebrate 20 years in 2021. I have been with Community Options for two years and I have been blessed with the opportunity to advocate for those we support in the Nashville area. Our region actively shares Community Options’ stories with local leaders, businesses, and others in the community. We also provide employment training to students at a local high school with plans to expand our efforts to two additional schools this fall. The Nashville region opened the first Family Model home in Tennessee in late 2018 and we will continue to grow this program in the Nashville area.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“The most impactful stories are those stories of individuals being successfully employed and the pride that is shown in their jobs. The friendships and community connections that are developed by being active members in the community have been impactful.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“Community Options’ Direct Support Professionals are committed to our mission and the people supported daily. These heroes tirelessly support our individuals through this difficult time. Our Direct Support Professionals wear many hats and do everything possible to give the people we support a quality life.”

“The most impactful stories are those stories of individuals being successfully employed and the pride that is shown in their jobs. The friendships and community connections that are developed by being active members in the community have been impactful.”

Jeanette Preece - Executive Director, Cookeville, Tennessee

Jeanette Preece - Executive Director, Cookeville, Tennessee

Jeanette Preece
Executive Director, Cookeville, Tennessee

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I grew up in a small town in eastern KY called Inez with 7 sisters and 5 brothers. Our mother was the kind of person that would share whatever she had with those that had less. She was kind, caring, and knew how to make her money and any other item such as food or clothing go as far as it could. She taught all of us that everyone was important and that if we could help someone, that is exactly what we should do. Many times, she would give to others before she herself would use or take an item. I learned about giving back by watching her and by listening to her read stories from the Bible of the things that Jesus would do for others. Once while riding the school bus I witnessed another child bully a person with developmental disabilities. They were calling her names such as ugly and nasty just because she did not dress in nice new clothing. Early on in life, I was a champion for those less fortunate than myself.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“In the past 14 years, I have experienced so many wonderful and beneficial training and learning activities with Community Options, Inc. As a member of the COI team, we make the most difference in the lives of the people we support. We give them a voice by advocating with them and for them. We have had the opportunity to give presentations on Community Options, Inc and our services to community leaders, organizations and political leaders. We are making change happen in the lives of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities by demanding respect, support, and acceptance not only in their home life, but also in the communities in which they live. We have made tremendous strides with employment for those we support, providing needed resources so that they may work in integrated employment and be active members in their churches, civic organizations, and community activities.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“The knowledge that I have gained of each person’s life prior to their involvement and placement with the Community Options family has impacted me the most. Community Options is not just an agency or a nonprofit, it is a family. Many of the people we support have little to no family involvement and they depend on our staff to be that for them. One success story is that of a woman, who daily, would run into the street hoping to be ran down by a car because of the profound emptiness she had inside. This was her coping mechanism. Our staff have provided constant daily supports and have helped her to have joy and happiness in her life. She is now a productive member of the community with employment, church, and community memberships. Many success stories just like this are what impact my life. I have seen firsthand what a well-managed and caring environment can do for people who are left alone with no family support. These stories make all the difference.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“Our community as well as our nation need to show more kindness and compassion. We must stay as safe as possible for ourselves and for those who need us most. This too shall pass, and we will all come out better for the experience.”

“The knowledge that I have gained of each person’s life prior to their involvement and placement with the Community Options family has impacted me the most. Community Options is not just an agency or a nonprofit, it is a family.”

Kimberly Wilson - Executive Director, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Kimberly Wilson - Executive Director, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Kimberly Wilson
Executive Director, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I grew up on a farm in a small southern town called Hohenwald with a population of only 3,000. Growing up in a small town, there wasn’t much to do so it was all about creativity. My parents would preach sayings like ‘Hard work builds character’ or ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. They raised my siblings and me to be self-sufficient. When I was 7, my mother served as Assistant Director of Special Olympics Area 31 and I took part in integrated sports activities with athletes who had a variety of diagnoses. I learned then what an impact one person can make in another’s life. As a child, my home was never just mine because our family often took in people that were struggling. We assisted them with getting back on their feet whether they were single mothers with newborns and no support system, or children from a broken home. Most looking from the outside would say our home was chaotic, but it taught me the values and principles I use in my everyday life: to always give a helping hand and to never judge a book by its cover because there is always more to the story.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“I have been in several roles with Community Options throughout the last several years, each role giving me opportunities to grow and support individuals with disabilities. This field isn’t for everyone and has obstacles at every level and position. However, the reward that you get at the end of each day is something that money can’t buy. We fight every day to make a difference in the lives of the people we advocate for. ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ Although it comes with many challenges, we can see integration in our communities, relationship development, and increased opportunities.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“The stories of the individuals we support are more than just their disabilities. It is often challenging to change a mindset, and most don’t come to us with an ‘I can’ attitude. Despite this, Community Options is always striving to give them the opportunity to have independence and self-determination over their lives. It is such a sight when someone realizes they have the whole world ahead of them and a support system such as ours to always help them along the way.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“Perseverance. At this moment, life is not easy for any of us. We all struggle at some point and with different difficulties but despite everything, we will get through it. Discouragement can be overwhelming in these times, particularly during this pandemic. But we can find strength in each other. The people we support have faced so many fears throughout their lives, yet they continue to see the light in things. We must do the same.”

“Discouragement can be overwhelming in these times, particularly during this pandemic. But we can find strength in each other. The people we support have faced so many fears throughout their lives, yet they continue to see the light in things. We must do the same.”

Dorothy Goodwin - Regional Vice President, South Carolina & Tennessee

Dorothy Goodwin - Regional Vice President, South Carolina & Tennessee

Dorothy Goodwin
Regional Vice President, South Carolina & Tennessee

Tell us about where you grew up and how giving back to the community was a part of your family experience.

“I am a country girl, having grown up in Hopkins, South Carolina; a rural community located 13 miles east of Columbia. My father worked at Fort Jackson Military Base and farmed. Born 11th of 13 children, it seemed our home was always filled with family and neighbors; people who took care of each other. After suffering a broken back at work, our dad was unable to do either job. My mom worked two jobs to care for the family and I witnessed a loving community rallying around my family providing food, childcare, and rides to doctors’ appointments. Even though we lived on a very limited income, our parents always shared food with neighbors or gave money when someone’s power was in danger of being disconnected. I was raised in a strong Christian environment understanding that we are our brother’s keeper. After graduating high school, I attended the University of South Carolina, pursuing a degree in Human Sciences because I knew I wanted to work with people, somehow making their lives better. I worked with Richland County Administration as a Case Manager but discovered my true passion when I took a job supporting persons with intellectual disabilities.”

Tell us about Community Options, Inc. and how your work impacts the community.

“Since joining Community Options in March 2009, we’ve grown our Columbia region and expanded our operations to the Greenville and Charleston areas. In addition to 30 group homes, we’ve added host homes, supervised living, and employment services. We’re privileged to support persons with intellectual and related disabilities that had limited residential options and provider choice. Helping persons realize their dreams of living and working in a community rather than behind the fenced walls of institutions has such a positive impact in the community. Though there may be some in the public that do not fully understand the rights of persons with disabilities, we’re making great strides educating communities, building relationship, and in many cases, giving back to the community. We have increased the number of persons living happy lives, working, shopping, and recreating in their communities.”

What stories have most impacted you during your time working with marginalized communities.

“I’ve witnessed numerous success stories at Community Options; one of a tearful mom grabbing my hand at an institution in Columbia, begging us to take her son; another of staff from an institution dropping off a young man stating, ‘He won’t last’ because of previous failed placements. (He did last and is doing well). We’ve experienced success stories of persons moving from institutions and hospital settings as well as from homes where families just simply couldn’t care for their loved ones anymore. I’ve also attended hostile homeowner association meetings where we were verbally attacked for operating a business in a residential community. I’ve used those meetings as an opportunity to educate neighbors, being open and honest about the homes while encouraging visits to meet their neighbors who desire to be a part of the community.”

If you could share one thing with our community during the COVID-19 crisis, what would it be?

“We are in unchartered territory with an invisible enemy that we’re struggling to fight. While the world races to find a vaccine and may disagree on what to do, overall there has been a greater sense of community. The word ‘essential’ has been redefined, expanding to positions some previously considered unimportant. There’s a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I have been so amazed at the fortitude and strength of our personnel during this pandemic. The Direct Support Professionals have been amazing juggling family life with kids out of school, working second jobs during the crisis, yet showing up providing close contact service with compassion. Our middle managers and Executive Directors have left their offices to become front liners, delivery persons, grocery shoppers, and support staff while leading their regions. The continual guidance and support from the executive team has provided direction as well as material support. It reaffirms my belief in the goodness of people. We will get through this and we’ll be stronger and better. So, I would encourage all to be kind, respect each other, and be altruistic, showing concern and compassion.”