Serving the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Community in Denver Part One
This two-part series will feature 11 of the 2020 mill levy-funded community initiatives highlighting their success and flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) provides mill levy funding for organizations that provide unique services and resources to Denver residents. In 2020, there were 27 of these external initiatives, which received nearly $2.9 million in mill levy funding. The projects were diverse in scope and purpose and helped to fill critical gaps in services for Denver residents with developmental delays or disabilities. What follows are profiles of some of those valued partners.
Jovial Concepts cultivates life and work skills through garden-based programming. The program supports students with I/DD foster independent living skills through gardening and cooking activities. Jovial teaches students gardening along with valuable life skills such as meal preparation, volunteer gardening and online learning.
The staff at Jovial Concepts made programming changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jovial canceled in-person cooking activities but continued to host volunteers to tend to the gardens by enacting restrictions intended to keep everyone safe and healthy. Volunteer groups were restricted so that only those who live together would work near one another. To further reduce risk, Jovial implemented safe practices and guidelines which include social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing tools after use, assigning tools to students and assigning gloves. Jovial Concepts staff also worked with Financial Health Institute to move some classes online to help maintain connection and learning with the Denver residents involved in their program.
Financial Health Institute
Financial Health Institute (FHI) teaches financial health and provides employment training to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, case managers and parents. FHI teaches valuable skills that last beyond employment in a variety of courses offered to the community. FHI creates and shares its interactive, blended learning curriculum through its ResourceAbility Online Learning Environment.
FHI collaborated with mill levy partners Access Gallery and Jovial Concepts to create blended learning content online. FHI used its design expertise to help the organizations create learning curriculums in order to ensure that Denver residents continued to have access to learning opportunities. With access to a full resource library and support of staff, FHI helped many organizations and people transition online for safer learning.
Connect Us fosters social inclusion, supports friendship-building and teaches leadership skills for youth. The program brings children of all backgrounds together to build skills so that young people learn how to express their feelings through play. The program offers opportunities for children to learn through the powerful language of play, creating teachable moments and problem-solving skills.
The framework that Connect Us uses empowers kids to learn from peers through activities that are facilitated by adults. The program uses experiential learning to build problem solving skills and help children understand each other. Children receive lessons about inclusivity and tolerance so they can work as a team.
This year, Connect Us staff worked diligently to ensure safety while continuing to provide an opportunity for play. Children played together outdoors at a safe physical distance. Everyone wore a mask and used hand sanitizer when doing activities. The protocols were adjusted due to COVID-19, but the focus remained the same.
Passport to Independence (ACEConnect)
The Passport to Independence project is a program of Denver Public Schools ACEConnect, which teaches independent living skills to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who will be graduating high school. The program uses community-based instruction to support students with self-advocacy and independent living skills as they prepare to transition into adulthood. Students get a chance to build self-advocacy while stepping out of their comfort zone with the guided hand of Ace Connect staff.
Remote learning has been a barrier for some students as they adapt to learning virtually. For some students with I/DD, the move to online learning has been difficult. For those students, ACEConnect created preparatory workshops to support their goals and provide additional tech support. The program also made some adjustments during the school year to keep students connected to community organizations virtually. Four local organizations provide classes weekly to the students to use online technology to teach them new skills and communication.
Students in the program stay connected with the community while building communication and self-advocacy skills. With the instruction and support of the experience they create, they hope that such skills will empower students to reduce isolation after graduating high school.
Teaching the Autism Community Trades (TACT) was founded in 2016 and is the first and only trade program in the nation specifically created for individuals on the autism spectrum. This year, the school expanded its reach to include Denverites with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) beyond autism spectrum disorder in an effort to make up for cancelled programming, which was a widespread reality this summer as many organizations dealt with concerns about COVID-19.
The summer program offered Denver residents with I/DD seven 90-minute lessons that taught skills in the technology and trade fields. The one-on-one lessons were offered in person, with a Career Technical Education certified instructor. Individuals could choose from lessons in five different fields: auto mechanics, carpentry, sewing, STEM and welding. TACT was able to offer these lessons free of charge to Denver residents with I/DD through Denver mill levy funds at Rocky Mountain Human Services.
TACT made adaptations to the way it delivered programming in an effort to ensure safety and adhere to public health guidance. Instructors and students are prescreened. They have their temperatures taken, wear masks and the rooms, equipment and materials they use are sanitized after each use.
In part two of this series we will feature Mission Supports, Probate Power, the Laradon FIT program, The Wayfaring Band, Access Gallery and Guided By Humanity.
To learn more about our mill levy-funded community initiatives visit www.rmhumanservices.org/ml.