At Heritage Christian Services (HCS), people always come first. It’s what the founding parents insisted on, and it’s still the backbone of the culture more than 20 years later. Because of that dedication, the agency upholds the highest standards of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and when needs arise—like respite care for overextended families—HCS steps in to fill the gap.
That’s why the agency has grown from one group home in 1984 to now serving more than 1,500 children and adults with developmental disabilities through its homes, day habilitation programs, respite care, and service coordination. Today, its reach includes Monroe, Wayne, Livingston, Erie, and Niagara counties.
Throughout its growth, quality residential programs have remained at the heart of the agency. Close to 400 people live in homes operated by Heritage Christian Services, where they are supported 24 hours a day by a compassionate, highly trained staff. Agency nurses are also available around the clock, and an HCS staff member schedules and attends all medical appointments to ensure proper communication and to follow up on any medical concerns. Staff share medical information with family members, who are invited to stop by their loved one’s home at any time. To help with its residential waiting list, HCS continues to add homes and programs where people can have meaningful work and be active in their neighborhoods.
Heritage Christian is nationally recognized for its work in strengthening community involvement. In fact, its health and wellness center won the 2009 Community Builder Award for providing a place where people with and without disabilities interact naturally—a place where everyone is on equal ground. As for other national recognitions, HCS also accepted the 2011 Full Community Inclusion Award, given by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
HCS believes in supporting the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—and offers opportunities for people to grow in all of these areas. The agency welcomes people of all faiths and makes sure people have the opportunity to attend places of worship, volunteer for causes they believe in, and become part of the larger community.
When Michele first found out that her eight-year-old son, Zach, had autism, she really didn’t know where to turn. She read books. She quit her high-pressure job to spend more time with him, and still, the two of them felt alone and unsure. That is, until they found Heritage Christian Services.
Zach was first introduced to the agency through its Giving Opportunities to Athletes who Love Soccer (GOALS) sports program. Until then, Zach had never played soccer and didn’t have friends his own age. He felt different, like he didn’t quite have a place to fit in, but that all changed when he walked out onto the field.
"Now he is proud. He has a sense of independence," said Michele, who found comfort herself in being surrounded by people who really understood her son. "I have such a hard time when he has a hard time. Now, I’m at ease, knowing that he feels better about himself."
When it comes to dreams, Susan knows how to reach them—by asking for a little support from her friends and loved ones. Her handmade jewelry business got off the ground with some nudging from her service coordinator and her dream of living more independently recently came true, too.
Parents and friends of Heritage Christian Services have continued to work with the agency to find new ways to serve the more than 11,000 people who are waiting for homes statewide. One of those ways is by granting Susan’s wish for more responsibility and less staff oversight.
Now, Susan lives in a home where staff is available but not on duty 24 hours a day, where she cooks her own meals, and uses public transportation to get to and from her job. Susan and her two roommates take care of their own medications, buy groceries, and pay their own bills. "I’m happy," she said about a month before her move. "I’m ready to succeed at life; ready to move on up in the world."
And as people like Susan grow and learn, others fill their spots at the traditional group homes that offer full staffing. Already Heritage Christian has purchased more homes for people who are ready for more independence and it has plans to add more during the next five years, which could mean at least another 50 more people from the community can be served.
We all know how challenging it can be to try to master something new, to push ourselves into unfamiliar territory. But Teresa, who lives in an apartment operated by Heritage Christian Services, has been doing just that.
When Teresa first moved into her apartment, she was a little shy. She had trouble forming words, both physically and cognitively, so she had used sign language to communicate for much of her life. However, Teresa soon made it clear that she preferred to speak. When the staff signed to her, Teresa ignored them. When they spoke—and encouraged her to speak—Teresa responded. And then things really began to change.
Teresa decided to start using a small, handheld computer to say pre-selected words and phrases, and she found that it was easier for her to communicate with her friends. Her shyness began to fade, and she continued to work on improving her pronunciation skills.
Now, she speaks for herself. She orders her own meat at the deli. She talks to staff, and this summer, she read a prayer in front of hundreds of people at camp. Three years ago, Teresa never would have stood at the microphone at camp and read something out loud. This year she didn’t even need to practice before taking the microphone. That’s the kind of success story that only comes from all of us in Teresa’s support network doing our part to make sure she has the opportunities—and the access to the therapy and the technology—she needs to reach her goals.
When Mayukwa picks up a drum, something sacred happens. "The drums, dancing, and music are important to me because I feel free when I’m playing or singing," said Mayukwa, who is originally from Zambia and now serves as a direct support professional at Heritage Christian Services.
Often Mayukwa uses his talent to entertain and uplift the people he works with. Even a bad day can quickly get better with music. "The individuals I support love music, drums, and dancing so having this talent helps out a lot," he said. "My talents and my passions are part of me so when my employer values them, it helps me to grow and to do even better."
Additional information on Heritage Christian Services