March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month! Valerie Muratori, Executive Director of Saratoga Bridges, located in Ballston Spa NY and serving all of Saratoga County, took time to answer our questions about the programs and services they offer for individuals with developmental disorders!
How has “grassroots advocacy” changed the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families?
A group of parents from Saratoga, Rensselaer, Warren & Washington Counties founded Saratoga Bridges (formerly Saratoga County ARC) as a chapter of the New York State Association for Retarded Citizens (NYSARC, Inc.) in 1954 to create a rightful place in society for their children with developmental and other disabilities. From the beginning, the concentration was to develop educational opportunities, increase physical, verbal, communication and daily living skills and promote better personal and social opportunities.
Our Mission Statement is “Saratoga Bridges is committed to advocacy for people with disabilities by providing resources that enable them to live enriching lives in the communities where they are valued for their abilities and contributions.”
Every person receives an individualized program designed to help them conquer the challenges of everyday living and realize their dreams. Saratoga Bridges’ philosophy is that every day is full of possibilities!
We proudly offer a full range of professional services 24/7 to 826 individuals with developmental disabilities and their families including:
- Clinical – Occupational, physical and speech therapies; nursing, nutrition, psychology and social work
- Community opportunities, Day Hab, and employment programs
- Family support – Adult Social Club, Friends United in Networking, Sibshops, etc.
- Legislative Advocacy
- Recreational and social opportunities
- Residential – 18 homes, family care, and supportive apartments
What type of community activities do the individuals in your programs participate in?
Through volunteerism, our individuals develop many skills that enhance their self-confidence and self-esteem by supporting their personal success. They have been making an impact on the communities where they work and live. Some of the many places they are volunteering include animal shelters, area parks, civic organizations, libraries, and Meals-on-Wheels.
Your Residential Program has grown to 18 homes! What can you tell us about how this program helps residents maximize their independence?
Our residential department is not just a group of institutional-modeled facilities or work sites for staff members, rather they are where people live like any family does. They can be who they are, feel love, comfort and security, rejoice in happy, successful occasions and console each other in times of sadness. While Saratoga Bridges provides oversight, upkeep and support, we fervently believe it is the individuals who live in these houses that make them a home.
Although we offer 24 hour supervision, people strive to maximize their independence while living, working, recreating, volunteering and socializing within their environments. Our highly trained staff members support individuals by working on communication, decision and social skills development within and outside of their homes while offering meticulous attention to each person’s interests.
Our newest residential options are supportive apartments. This exciting endeavor has fulfilled lifelong dreams as these individuals have progressed through an exciting journey from needing a lot of support to total independence!
How do you help individuals with disabilities gain employment?
Saratoga Bridges has several vocational and employment programs. Individuals can become competitively employed in the community through Alpha Career Options, our Supported Work Program. Others work through several different components of Alpha Industries either performing a variety of hand assembling projects, constructing hardwood pallets or processing kiln-dried firewood.
Regardless of the employment program, all of the individuals welcome the opportunity to have a job that produces a paycheck. Their ability to work is a direct reflection on their increased self-worth and self-confidence because they feel they are valued by their employers, co-workers and by the community. As a result, they become more productive and independent.
Which of your programs and/or activities are most popular among the individuals who take advantage of them?
Some of the activities our individuals enjoy greatly are delivering for Meals-on-Wheels, partaking in the variety of Adult Social Club endeavors and participating at our Creative Endeavors Arts Center.
Tell us about the Creative Endeavors Art Center and Gift Shop.
In 2004, the Backroom Artists started in a classroom for a small group of people who wanted to explore the fine arts. They began working on paintings and drawings and were able to discover their creative potential. The agency recognized the importance of having art opportunities available and decided to step outside our conventional way of providing services.
Through the efforts of the Art Coordinator and staff, we have been able to provide our individuals with a studio to hone their creativity. Creative Endeavors Arts Center also has a Gallery and Gift Shop for the artists to showcase and sell their work.
How does your Alfred Z. Solomon Media & Computer Training Center benefit individuals with disabilities?
The Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust awarded Saratoga Bridges a very generous grant to create the Alfred Z. Solomon Media & Computer Training Center. Computers have significant benefits for individuals with developmental disabilities and allow the user to be on an equal playing field and full access to the information world. The Alfred Z. Solomon Media & Computer Training Center is improving employment, programmatic, social and recreational opportunities in a fun learning environment. We provide technical assistance, support and training by utilizing specialized software and adaptive hardware to ensure that the equipment is fully accessible to individuals with various cognitive, communicative, and physical disabilities.
What volunteer services are always needed and how does someone sign up to become a volunteer? And how can someone help if they don’t have any time to spare?
Volunteers truly make a difference! We always need assistance in raising awareness and funds for our programs and services and participating on committees and at fundraisers. Our valued volunteers help in a variety of ways with their time, talents and resources.
If people do not have a lot of time to give, we welcome financial contributions all the time! By donating to Saratoga Bridges, the agency can continue its’ mission of providing the highest quality services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Please contact our Development Office at 587-0723 ext.1266 for more details.
Tell us something that someone might not know about Saratoga Bridges.
As of January 1, 2006, the Saratoga County ARC changed its name and logo to Saratoga Bridges. The impetus for making this fundamental change occurred because individuals and their families began voicing strong concern and severe reservations that ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) is no longer representative of all the people we serve. We then changed our mission statement so that we formally state that we support people with a myriad of disabilities.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every day is rewarding. I truly enjoy developing opportunities for individuals to reach their dreams and life goals. As a result of creating innovative programming and services, Saratoga Bridges has grown from a $6 million organization to a $28 million agency with over 550 employees serving over 800 Saratoga County citizens with developmental disabilities.
Would you like to volunteer your time or make a financial contribution to Saratoga Bridges? Call their Development Office at 587-0723 ext.1266.