Infinity: “Never Say No, Always Say How”
“The central message of the story of this program is that we have taken people with significant challenges and provided them with person-centered supports. Together, we have filled their lives with experiences and helped each one of them discover who they are as a person.”
– Nicole Villano, Program Director of Infinity Day Program
A New Beginning
The Infinity Day Program first opened its doors in 2015. The program was designed to meet the unique needs of four adults that had moved into their own home after spending many years of their lives in the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, a state institution for people with disabilities. Each resident had spent most of their lives in various institutional settings, where life choices and decisions were made for them, without any personal input or direction from them. An immersive community program like Infinity, infused with concepts like being “person-centered” and “dignity of risk”, was completely foreign to them.
Upon the closing of the state-operated O.D. Heck in 2015, the people being served there had the “highest” level of support needs and were frequently denied support from smaller, local organizations that support people with disabilities. This was because of the common belief that the money and training required for appropriate staff supports for these unique individuals was simply too costly.
True to form to its “we don’t say no, we say how” mantra, AIM stepped up and asked, “How can we provide the unique supports needed for each person? More importantly, how can we help them discover a new way of life and live a life filled with joy?”
The evolution of the Infinity Day Program at AIM Services outlines how this forward-thinking model of support services became a reality. Now, the lives of day program participants are filled with individual choice, meaningful opportunities, and life-enriching experiences. The success of this day program allows AIM to open its doors to more people that may be denied services elsewhere due to their highly specialized support needs.
The goals and objectives of the Infinity program are built around the unique needs of each individual. Infinity was designed, not with the perceived or assumed goals of the individuals by AIM, but through information gained through meaningful relationships built between staff and those they support.
“When we first started supporting people at Infinity, we started slow,” shares Brooke Mattison, Program Director of Day Services at AIM. “When people first started, the participants were not comfortable leaving the program building. We started with small, attainable goals. First, get out of the building to the van. Then, drive the van to the destination, drive around the parking lot, and drive back to the program building. Finally, drive to the destination and get out of the van. Eventually, we got them to where we were going.”
Each person’s comfort level in each location to which they traveled was the primary focus, and once this objective was met, the group was able to explore more and experience their environment. More opportunities and experiences were added as the participants became more comfortable.
The focus of Infinity centers around assisting people to become more aware of their communities, to identify their valued social roles, and to build and nurture meaningful connections that lead to lifelong relationships. Services are organically grown from innovative practice in customized and flexible person-centered planning, enriching the person’s life based on their gifts and talents. Through this model of support, people have new opportunities, often for the first time in their lives, to create meaningful works of art, to give back to their community through volunteerism, to enjoy themed days and holidays, and to participate in group activities and exciting experiences.
Participants in the day program get to enjoy visits at places like the Great Escape, they ride go-karts, enjoy art classes, go bowling, practice taekwondo, visit aquariums, and experience trips to the zoo. Through focused and personalized planning, they can enjoy the same opportunities as their peers.
“It was amazing to witness people discovering their own personalities,” shares Nicole Villano, Program Director of Infinity. “After a life filled with time-out rooms, helmets, and restraints [at institutional settings], it was incredible to watch people emerge and truly begin to experience life. People are finding themselves. Staff are here to provide feedback and any required assistance, but no matter someone’s abilities, they have the right and ability to make their own choices.”
Villano says that out of these opportunities to build upon one’s own interests, the participants have now grown natural and authentic community relationships that are separate from the paid relationships with their support staff. Two great examples of these personal connections are a participant visiting the same cashier at her local Walmart, and another seeking out her favorite employee at her favorite restaurant.
An important and distinct component of Infinity Day Program is the focus on connecting participants with their surrounding communities. Each community experience is designed with preplanning, so the specific needs of each person can be met. The idea behind AIM’s support model, which is driven by the staff, is that thoughtful and intentional supports for each person helps them achieve their goals and enjoy their chosen community experiences.
“As people achieve their outcomes, they are satisfied and feel a sense of reward,” shared Villano. “They want more of that feeling, so we continue to present them with opportunities within their community.”
Compassion and Connection
In the early days of the Infinity Program, it was thought that physical strength and bold personalities were the key to successful staffing. Through time, the program directors were able to stand back and realize that the most successful staff were those who could provide care with compassion and meaningful connection. Consistent staff with a calm presence and “big hearts” continue to succeed at Infinity. Staff assist those they serve, not just through the daily social, emotional, and behavioral support needs, but also through life experiences like the loss of a family member. Together, they work on coping skills for these major life changes.
“Change is especially hard for those we support,” shares Allison Brownell, Assistant Program Manager at Infinity. “Even basic skills of waiting and patience are a challenge for some we support. In the end, those we support start to teach us. We see them overcome their own specific challenges with the coping skills they have come to understand. With each new challenge, we rise to greet it as a new opportunity to help people to succeed and achieve.”
A shared goal amongst the directors of the Infinity Day Program is continued growth. With the knowledge that many people are denied support due to their unique needs, AIM strives to create opportunities for more people to achieve their personal goals, while also providing relief for families with limited support. There are few barriers to the attainment of one’s goals when thoughtful proactive support is in place. The presence of care and compassion are instrumental to the growth of any person supported by AIM. Thankfully, at AIM, this characteristic is in abundance.