The Stone County Developmental Disability Board is poised to experience its biggest year since its founding in 2017.
Formed after the 2016 passage of a property tax of 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the nonprofit has grown consistently. Last year, the board hired its first full-time executive director, LaDella Thomas. And Thomas hopes 2021 will see the opening of a new facility and an expansion of services for the developmentally disabled locally – addressing autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, epilepsy and certain head injuries.
Thomas says she became involved in the effort to create the SCDDB while working for Taney County’s developmental board. She says getting Stone County’s counterpart off the ground was a passion project.
“I did some volunteer work, built (Stone County’s) website, brochure and did marketing stuff. When it was time for them to hire an executive director, they just needed someone part-time, so I worked full-time in Taney County and part-time in Stone. I straddled counties for about two years,” she says with a laugh.
In June 2020, she went full-time in Stone County. It operates on roughly $650,000 annually collected through the property tax, plus income from grants.
Thomas says the first three-plus years were about finding people who needed assistance.
Currently, the board provides qualified Stone County residents with assistance in getting OATS Transit services and funds other items, such as respite care, art and music therapy, and summer camp scholarships.
“The board knew that funding transportation was vital. There’s no county in this area that isn’t struggling with transportation. It’s just a really difficult thing to do in a rural area,” Thomas says.
The respite care also is vital. Participants in the program receive funding for 25 hours of care a month.
“It’s very expensive for a family to have a person with a developmental disability that they care for. Even if they get funding, it’s still a financial hit,” Thomas says, citing a family caring for someone needing round-the-clock help limits the income potential in the home.
Amy Larson says SCDDB’s services have transformed her brother Del Galloway’s life. Galloway, now 45, experienced a disabling injury at age 12. Larson says she learned about SCDDB when she and her siblings began taking more responsibility for Galloway’s care as their mother aged.
“It keeps opening doors for Del,” says Larson, who has since joined the board. “There was a time when it felt like Del couldn’t be actively involved in the community. Now, when I take him to a social function, people come up and say hi and want to chat.”
Galloway also fell in love with a woman who’s active in SCDDB. They plan to marry in June.
“As a team, they handle day-to-day tasks. It seems they can conquer anything together, with supportive families and the programs that are offered through the Stone County disability board,” Larson says.
To expand its offerings, SCDDB recently applied to the Missouri Department of Mental Health to become a service provider. Thomas hopes to have approval in time to launch a day services program March 1.
Rather than a traditional facility-based structure, the board has opted to go in a new direction.
“We’re putting people out in the community as they receive services rather than a congregate setting in two or three rooms a day,” Thomas explains. “We want people to experience and be part of their community.”
Clients will get to go to the coffee shop in the morning, shop, work out or maybe go fishing. Along the way, staffers will identify and employ teachable moments.
“They’ll learn to count money, check out a book and learn to maintain a quiet voice in the library, go back home and have some lunch so they learn to make a sandwich. It’s about teaching moments and learning life skills,” Thomas says.
Thomas expects to add up to seven people to the current staff of three for this program.
SCDDB also is in the process of getting its own facility. Currently housed in the former Reeds Spring High School, the board is under contract to buy an 18-acre site in Branson West for $150,000.
Thomas says Dake Wells Architecture Inc. is designing the building, which Thomas expects to cost $750,000-$850,000 for Phase I of a three-phase development plan.
“This is an exciting and terrifying stage,” Thomas says. “We don’t want to get it wrong.”
Medessa Bolton, chair of the board’s operations committee, says the site was selected after members toured about a dozen others. In anticipation of a spring groundbreaking, the first phase calls for 4,500-5,000 square feet of office space, meeting rooms and classrooms.
“The state statutes allow for us to build offices and acquire land. We have a nice reserve set up to pay cash for that,” she says.
The later phases are slated to add spaces for job training, a commercial kitchen, community meeting rooms, sports courts and an indoor pool. Thomas expects to secure grants to fund those plans.
Thomas says the final element will meet a need identified by partner Champion Athletes of the Ozarks, which has had a hard time finding sports facilities and swimming pools in Stone County.
“For the people we serve, we will have a training program where they will actually be working in the facility,” Thomas says. “They’ll have a job coach in janitorial or front desk or data entry or accounting – so they can live the life they want to be living. Whatever form that takes, we’re here to support that.”
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