Helping those with disabilities lead independent lives
By Rusty Graham
A nondescript duplex on a quiet residential street in central Spring Branch got an interior facelift last week.
Volunteers from the Houston office of Turner Construction helped reinforce the interior walls in one side of the duplex, then primed and painted those walls for the three developmentally challenged men who live there. Clients of Vita-Living, the men range in age from the late 30s to the early 50s and are at varying stages of independent living, said Jillian Day, director of development and volunteer coordinator. While grown physically, the men sometimes act out in childish ways when upset or frustrated, including the punching of walls. That means they can’t have photos, posters or art on the walls, Day said — until now, now that Turner volunteers have overlaid sheetrock with half-inch beadboard, painted a pleasant off-white. Day said the men have different interests but all three are huge Houston Texans fans, and are excited about being able to put Texans gear on the walls.
Vita-Living provides boarding and other services for developmentally challenged adults, helping them to live more normal, independent lives. “People forget that those with disabilities age and need living options,” Day said. “Our clients are fixtures in their neighborhoods.” One man who lives at the house being worked on Friday has been there 20 years, she said. For Turner, volunteering with Vita-Living is a way of giving back. “We really try to be a part of the communities we build in,” said Joe Glowacki, general manager of the Houston office. “And it’s real easy — our employees have a passion for this.”
Marketing specialist Jessica Long said that she loves to volunteer, and that soon after coming on board with Turner she began looking for opportunites for the company. Through the Volunteer Houston website she found Vita-Living, whose entry said it needed construction help. Long contacted Day, who got back with her immediately. “When Jillian told me they only have one maintenance man (for 18 units), I said ‘whoa — we really need to do this’,” Long said.
A crew of construction specialists volunteered time to install the beadboard (“they’’ll go work a regular shift tonight,” Day said), while office and professional staff came in to caulk seams and to prime and paint. Turner also donates the materials used in the project, other than a special fire-resistant paint the Vita-Life provides. “It’s such a blessing that there’s a company out there … that wants to give back in this way,” Day said.
Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states for funding for community-based services and programs for the developmentally disabled, with a waiting list of 6-11 years, she said.
Founded by Renee Wallace as a way to keep her son, who has severe intellectual diabilities, out of a group home, Vita-Life began with one home serving six adults. Today, it serves 80 clients who live in 18 facilities around Houston, and another 500 with transportation and other services that help the developmentally challenged adults live more independent lives. Parents of developmentally challenged children once had two options when those children become adults — keep them at home or put them in an institution. But groups like Vita-Living offer another choice, one where with services and support, those with intellectual disabilities can lead safe and meaningful lives in the community.
Day said that while the three men living at the duplex share a love of the Texans, they have different interests: one is a huge Dungeons and Dragons player, another loves to garden while a third is an avid fisherman.There’s a staff member at the facility when the men are there, to supervise and to help out, Day said. Long of Turner Construction said that the company is going to try and come out to help Vita-Living every quarter, a notion seconded by Glowicki. “It’s very fulfilling to help people like Jillian (Day),” said Glowicki, “when you see them working so hard for such a great cause.”