Tuesday, August 5, 2014

There's No Place Like Home: Supportive IRAs Offer Independence, Advocacy

Three Geneseo women are able to fully experience the joys and challenges of community life with assistance from the newest offering at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming: Supportive IRAs.

Program participants Laura Olyer (left)
and Becky Nilsson
IRA stands for Individualized Residential Alternative. A Supportive IRA is an independent residence, such as an apartment, where a person lives on his or her own with assistance from The Arc to balance aspects of their life such as money management, self-advocacy, or accessing support. They live, work and socialize in fulfilling and productive ways by making their own choices with the advocacy of Arc staff by their side.

“I love shopping, going out to eat, and doing crafts,” says Laura Olyer, one of the program participants. “(With the Supportive IRA program), I get to do those things on my own, and sometimes with other members of the program. A staff person also comes by to help me keep the apartment looking nice.”

Laura, Becky Nilsson, and Judy Gardner are the first participants in the Supportive IRA program. Each of the ladies lives in her own apartment in a different part of town. They share common interests, and can often be found together, spending a Saturday afternoon at a street festival or farmers’ market. But the supports that they receive from the program are unique and person centered, according to Residential Services Director Deborah Tuckerman.

Laura Olyer outside her Supportive IRA
“We customize our services based on what the participant needs in terms of their level of support,” she says. “It really is an individualized service. We have staff on-call 24 hours a day to help out in urgent situations, which is a nice safety net for individuals. We also have weekly nursing support to help ensure health and safety needs are met.”

The Supportive IRA program officially launched on June 1st, after months of behind-the-scenes work by the Residential Services team. Overseeing the program are Residential Services Manager Amanda Hamler, Site Supervisor Maureen Kingston, and Direct Support Professional who meets with each participant 2-3 times per week at home and in the community.

Wanda Krautwust,

Program eligibility for each individual is determined by New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) following recommendation by The Arc. To qualify, individuals must have at least some basic cooking skills, must be able to administer their own medications, and must have solid fire safety skills.

The program is unique among The Arc’s Residential Services in that individuals lease the apartments in which they live, and then The Arc brings in its services. Apartments must go through a certification process by OPWDD to ensure that safety standards are met.

Organizers say that Supportive IRAs fill a gap in The Arc’s spectrum of Residential Services.

“It’s a nice stepping stone between our 24 hour supervised residences where intensive skill building activities occur, and independent living with more minimal supports,” Deborah says. “Our goal in the Supportive IRAs is to help people live a self-determined life in as independent a fashion as possible.”

With initial success under its belt, Residential Services has plans to expand the program throughout Livingston and Wyoming Counties.

“We do have a waiting list for our group homes,” Amanda says. “On the other hand, the Supportive IRA program is an area we are being told by the state that we can grow. So an area of focus for us will be looking at who is in our group homes that could benefit from this new program, adjusting them into Supportive IRAs where appropriate, and getting other people into the traditional group homes who are in need of more intensive levels of care.”

“The most rewarding part of the program has just been seeing the ladies together, and especially how they have already bonded,” she adds. “Knowing that this program is going to grow, I just think of how many more friendships they’re going to receive out of it and how much they’re really going to be able to take advantage of everything that the community has to offer. There’s a great big world right in their back yards, and we are able to help them to discover it.”

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