At My Possibilities, differently abled students chart their course in society
by Karyn Brodsky
It is said that you’re never too old to learn. That holds especially true for those with special needs. But what happens when these students age out of high school programs and there’s nothing more available for them? According to Plano mom Charmaine Solomon, you create your own solution. Necessity was the mother of invention, as Solomon was “horrified” at what little awaited her son Kyle when he graduated from high school in 2006 at age 21.
The statistics are alarming. There are 25,000 people in Collin County with a cognitive disability; 9.2% of Texans aged 18-64 have a disability that prevents them from living independently; 52% of adults with cognitive disabilities leave high school without a diploma; and 62% of parents of adults with disabilities don’t have a plan for the future. (mypossibilities.org) All proof that there is a great need in North Texas for programs like the one Solomon co-founded. Plano-based My Possibilities, a continuing education program for differently abled young adults, is the first full-day, full-year continuing program in Collin County aimed to give adults with cognitive disabilities the chance at a higher education that helps them discover their purpose. The organization serves adults with disabilities such as Down syndrome, Autism, Asperger’s, Prader-Willi, head injuries and more. “You want to give young adults something to look forward to and somewhere to go where they can make friends and learn,” says Solomon. “Otherwise, sitting home just makes them feel depressed.”
My Possibilities provides a safe, stimulating environment with certified special needs staff, where young adults can learn life skills, find their passions and play an important role in society. Vocational skills are taught, socialization opportunities are offered, and students learn to live independently. According to Lauren McCormick, My Possibilities Social Media & Marketing Coordinator, while the classes are offered every day, some participants, especially those traveling a great distance (from all over North Texas!) attend just a few times a week. “The program is offered to those 18 years of age and older and they never age out,” she explains. “Our programs are planned curricula with courses that are educational, skill-building or enriching, but we also coordinate with external sources so students can earn certifications such as food handling.”
Participants in My Possibilities are referred to as “HIPsters” or “Hugely Important People.” In addition to core courses, each HIPster can choose electives. Health & Wellness includes lessons in healthy eating, physical fitness, personal wellness and healthy relationships, while Performing and Visual Arts affords the opportunity for creative expression through music, theater, dance and art. Culinary Arts teaches basic home kitchen and culinary skills and about vocational opportunities in food preparation, food service and customer service. Athletic training, exercise and personal training are available to all HIPsters and some have even gone on to the Special Olympics!
Socialization at My Possibilities takes many forms, from fun weekly outings to overnighters to weeklong outings at Kyle’s Cabin Residential Home, supervised by specially trained My Possibilities program staff. HIPsters can learn and develop social and independent living skills with their peers. One-on-one respite is also available for parents who need this service.
Solomon’s son Kyle was the first student to participate in the program and is still thriving there. Solomon says that thanks to My Possibilities, there is somewhere for differently abled students to go while their parents work. “As much as it is educational for students, it’s a relief for families to know their children are in a safe place, learning, making friends and finding their place in the world.”