Aiding independence

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 22, 2014

It’s the dream of almost every young person, independence.

Young people long to be independent of parental control and gain the ability to run their own lives.

Independence is about owning a home, buying groceries, securing a job and paying bills.

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But, for some Picayune residents there are circumstances beyond their control that inhibits their ability to make well-informed decisions or provide proper care.

Picayune’s Bridgeway Apartments is a facility that provides an independent living option for developmentally disabled adults.

Bridgeway Apartments is a program and ministry of Kansas’ non-profit St. Francis Community services, Executive Director Darryl W. Bruno said.

“We provide supervised living and supported employment services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they can live as independently as possible,” Bruno said.

There are currently 24 adults aged 18 and older at the facility, 12 girls and 12 boys, Bruno said. Each apartment is one-bedroom, single-occupancy and comes equipped with fully functioning kitchen.

Bruno said the apartments are classified as a Housing and Urban Development facility and each resident must fill out the application and place utilities in their own name.

Each resident pays rent that is based on income.

“We provide assistance coaching with food preparation, bills, laundry and utilities,” Bruno said. “We have job trainers who are paid by the facility to stay with the resident at their job to ensure they stay safe, focused and are completing job duties.”

Quannah Ramshur is the Supported Employment Coordinator and she finds residents jobs in the community and assigns them job trainers.

Ramshur said she brings facility brochures to businesses and informs them that they are seeking part-time work for their residents.

“We have been blessed in this community,” Ramshur said. “Some residents have been working at the same business anywhere from 11 to 16 years.”

There are many local businesses that employ Bridgeway residents including: Winn-Dixie, Picayune Chamber of Commerce, Picayune Drug, Home Depot, Ozona Church and many more, Ramshur said.

Ramshur said her favorite part of her job is interacting with the residents and witnessing their successes.

Cynthia O’Neal is employed at Bridgeway as a grocery shopper.

Before every trip to the grocery store, O’Neal visits each resident’s apartment with a checklist.

O’Neal said she also examines the refrigerator for outdated or spoiled food.

“We start with bathroom supplies and work our way throughout the apartment,” O’Neal said.

She accompanies the residents to the grocery store, calls out the list, and they choose the items they need.

Some residents have dietary restrictions and O’Neal said she also councils them on what they can or cannot have.

Some of the residents are able to use the debit card machines on their own while others need help.

“They love their shopping trips,” O’Neal said. “My favorite part of this job is enjoying their company, the one-on-one time and being an advocate for them.”

Bridgeway has 45 employees and the apartments are staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week, Bruno said.

“The state mandates that we maintain a one employee to six residents ratio at all times,” Bruno said.

There are seven vans and one car and staff drivers who take residents back and forth to their jobs, grocery stores and other places in the community, Bruno said.

The residents pay all their own utilities and rent.

Bruno said the facility relies on donations to schedule fun-filled events for the residents.

“Most make just enough to cover their monthly expenses,” Bruno said. “We want them to have as normal a life as possible.”

Bruno said the facility is planning a group Disney World trip.

The cost is $1,000 per resident and so far the group has raised about half of the funds, Bruno said.

“We want them to live as much of an independent life as possible and stay safe in the process,” Bruno said.

For more information about Bridgeway, call 601-749-4848.