Living independently isn’t always easy

Published 7:41 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CUTLINE: Item photo by Gina Burgess
Jason Kirkland, center right, discusses scheduling with Todd who will be going to the World Special Olympics in Japan with his sister in October.

Living independently isn’t always easy

By Gina Burgess
Lifestyles Editor
“These are not just apartments,” states Jason Kirkland, director of Bridgeway Apartments located in Picayune. “This is much more than that.” It is a lifestyle with piles of paperwork because the people that live here are developmentally disabled. “The specific goal here is for these guys to live and function as independently as possible in their daily living,” Kirkland said.
When accepted to live in one of the 23 units, the person must be evaluated and a program of development designed.
“The tasks that usually need to be worked on the most are apartment cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping,” Kirkland said. “Most of those that come here, come from a family setting and have never had to cook for themselves or shop or keep their room clean.”
It is called residential habilitation, he said, then added that goals are set with reasonable objectives and a plan of action is developed with measurable steps to follow. Home trainers work with them every day to help them learn mundane tasks like organizing their living space.
This program falls under the Department of Mental Health and strictly follows the Joint Commission of Accredited Healthcare Organization guidelines, therefore a time limit for objectives is in place, and piles of paperwork ensue. A client must achieve the task objective for six weeks before a new objective is developed.
Bridgeway Apartments is a non-profit organization, privately owned by St. Francis Academy headquarted in Kansas. Even though living expenses are subsidized through HUD, Social Security and Medicaid, the residents are required to be employed to help pay costs. A job is found for them through several local businesses like Walmart, Paul’s Pastry, McDonald’s, Hardees, Burger King, Picayune Drugs, Winn Dixie North, Domino’s, James Gray, Attorney at Law, and Picayune Industries. Job trainers go with each disabled employee and help keep them focused and on track. They usually work about two hours a day and then another person will come in for another two hours. Some can work for as long as four hours at a stretch.
“There’s not a client that lives here that isn’t appreciated at work,” Kirkland said.
But, it isn’t all work and no play for the residents. They go on field trips to local events like the Street Fairs and parades. They also go to Gulfshores and places like the Smoky Mountains. One resident, Todd, (for security reasons, his last name is withheld) will be going to Japan for the World Special Olympics this year in October.