FAIRMONT — Cindy Staud’s daughter Alesa has been a client of the Disability Action Center for more years than the two can remember.
Although the DAC is considered an essential service, the coronavirus pandemic forced its administrators to close down the facility in the name of safety, which prevented clients from attending classes and activities each day.
“From a parent’s view, that was their social outlet and they always had an activity to do with their friends,” Cindy said. “When that was cut, basically just severed really, they were kind of lost.”
According to Julie Sole, executive director of the Disability Action Center, clients being at home did not mean they would not be served by the DAC, and the staff members were able to find a way to accommodate them virtually.
“The language of the essential employees did include things like ‘Developmental disability centers,’” Sole said. “We knew as a staff that we would find a different way to provide the classes remotely.”
The result of some staff brainstorming led to the creation of Connection Kits, which the DAC has been providing to clients through the stay-home order. These kits serve provide activities for clients, as well as food for their families throughout the pandemic.
With kits going to clients’ homes, the next step involved instruction, which the DAC staff has been able to provide with the help of internet innovation.
“We teach the lesson on Facebook, or video meeting so that they know how to use all the resources in their kits,” Sole said. “[The kits] have been received phenomenally.”
Sole said 39 families and a total of 112 individuals have been impacted by Connection Kits, which are sent to clients every two weeks.
“We have spent a lot of time on our lesson plans really showing our clients how to cook at home,” Sole said. “We didn’t just give them stuff, really it’s our job, just like we would if they were here, show them how to implement that.”
Many of the products of the Connection Kits can be found online, where clients post pictures or videos of the art they are making for the others to see.
“With the Connection Kits, which I have been doing, I’m putting them on Facebook,” said Marina Maddow, a client and now staff member of the DAC. “We have been doing arts and craft worksheets, and instructions in videos with us doing what we are doing.”
Alesa said she has been enjoying the Connection Kits, because she likes to see her friends on screen and be able to interact with them through video.
“Somebody will put on Facebook a photo of them, to show how they do like exercises,” Alesa said. “It’s really cool and fun to do.”
Sole said that while everyone is facing unprecedented times, clients of the DAC and other people with intellectual disabilities could be feeling more anxiety and confusion than others, because their routine has been interrupted. She said it is important to their mental well-being that they are served, now more than ever.
“It’s really important that people with disabilities get served during this time,” Sole said. “So much of this emergency COVID funding is going for things like shelter and food, but I think it’s important that we look at folks like people with disabilities or seniors who are stuck in their homes — their crisis looks different. Their crisis looks like anxiety and depression and loss of routine and loss of value.”
With confusion and anxiety potentially being consistent feelings in DAC clients right now, Sole said their goal is to provide consistency to their clients.
While this could be a problem for some who are unable to receive consistent service, Sole said the DAC has been able to provide services for the most part, the entirety of the pandemic.
“We have not missed a beat,” Sole said. “If it was on our calendar of events, we have implemented and we have done that program in some way, shape or form.”
Sole said the DAC is not yet ready to reopen for full service, but the administrators are making a plan for a full return. She said the Connection Kits are also stocked with instruction and education for clients to learn how to respect social distancing, so they, too, will be prepared to safely return to the DAC.
“We’re not only giving them things in these Connection Kits, we’re showing them how to stay safe in their homes and for when they come back into the community and the center,” Sole said. “We’re really proud of the work we’ve been doing.”
Cindy Staud said she has seen the impact of the Connection Kits on Alesa throughout the pandemic. Being confined indoors had brought Alesa down somewhat, but the kits have proven to be a positive force for her mental health.
“When they started the Connection Kits it was awesome,” Cindy said. “It kind of gave them ‘I have a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday again, and I can have a routine again.’ Once we got those Connection Kits, her demeanor changed 99.9 percent.”