By: Danny May
A life-long dream being fulfilled and lives will be impacted
The look on Amanda Owen’s face is sheer excitement! Giddy might be a better word.
Spend two seconds with her and you’ll see why: her life-long dream is being fulfilled right before her eyes.
With the smell of fresh paint in the air and a stockpile of donated items still being sorted in the gym, Amanda walked me through the too-good-to-be-true building (the former Mary Kendall facility on Frederica Street) which houses the newly formed non-profit Puzzle Pieces.
“I just can’t believe it!” Amanda said. “Not only is it my dream coming true, but their dreams as well, and to think of all the lives we can impact with this place… it’s just unbelievable.”
Having just gotten the keys to their facility the day before our interview, the place was abuzz with staff and volunteers scrambling to get everything in place.
“This wouldn’t have been possible,” Owen said, “without the OMHS community grant and the Mary Kendall Home giving us a three year lease-to-own contract on this building. It’s absolutely perfect!”
Although the pieces seem to have fallen in place overnight, in reality the vision for Puzzle Pieces has come from Amanda’s experience her entire life.
Amanda sat down with Owensboro Parent to tell the story of her vision for Puzzle Pieces, the collaboration that made it possible, and the overwhelming community support that is literally filling their new facility.
What was the vision behind Puzzle Pieces?
Puzzle Pieces is for individuals with intellectual disabilities such as autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, brain injuries, or multiple disabilities. We take people as young as eight years old but there is no age cap for adults. So what we do is help them develop cooking skills, life skills, work skills, and independent skills, all in a fun and safe environment where they get social interaction and make friends while they’re at it. It also helps the parents out because it gives parents a place to take their child so they can have a break, or go shopping, or out on a date, or whatever.
Tell me about your brother:
Well, first of all he’s 6’4” and 31 years old, so he’s definitely my big brother. (Laughs!) Nick was born with what’s called 4XY chromosome syndrome. It’s very rare. He was actually only the 11th in the U.S. to have that diagnosis, so there wasn’t a lot of information or help for my parents when Nick was growing up. When I was in kindergarten one day, I told my mom: “Mom, when I grow up I want to help people like Nick.” So this desire has always been in my heart. I always volunteered with Special Olympics and that’s why I became a special education teacher. I’ve always been around it. I’ve been there. I’ve lived it.
What’s the story behind the name?
My husband actually came up with it when were talking one day. I was telling him that I felt like all these little pieces are coming together of this really big picture. So “Puzzle Pieces” just sort of fit.
What is your background?
I got my bachelor’s degree in special education from Western Kentucky University and my Master’s Degree in Exceptional Education K-12 with an autism certificate. I worked at Burns Middle School for the past six years with students with multiple disabilities. But with the OMHS grant money, I was able to quit that job and work here full time. Still, I get afraid sometimes that people might look at me and think “She’s only 28, how can she be a director of a non-profit?” But, again, this has always been my passion. My whole life has been building up to this point that I’m at right now. I firmly believe that. When you put your heart and soul into something, the possibilities are endless. I pray every night that if this is meant to be that God would just keep opening doors. And here we are!
How did this go from your idea to actually happening?
Last summer I went to the S.C.O.R.E. group through the Chamber of Commerce and presented the idea. They suggested I set it up as non-profit entity. I met Kathy Hempel (Editor’s note: OPM readers may remember Kathy from the “Team Karlie” article in the September 2011 issue) when her daughter Karlie was in my class. Kathy became our business manager and President of the Board. She did all the paperwork to get our non-profit status because she had that experience with Team Karlie. We applied in October and it was accepted in January. Then I wrote and received a WHAS Crusade for Children grant for $13,000 and we just received the $50,000 OMHS Community grant that allowed us to hire staff and lease this building!
What programs are you planning with this facility?
We’re going to have an after school program for school-aged kids. Daviess County Public Schools is partnering with us to bus kids here from city and county schools. Anytime schools are closed we will have “holiday sessions.” Then we also have a day program for adults. We’re planning to be open one Saturday a month as well. We actually already have 43 clients and we’re not even open yet.
One really cool program we’re excited about is our merchandise store, where we’ll be selling some of the things our clients make in their work skills class. Jewelry, corn hole boards, things like that. Some of our clients will also be working as clerks and cashiers in the store too. So when people buy those items they will be helping us out so much.
How else can people help Puzzle Pieces?
One way is definitely by donating to our cause and supporting our fundraisers. We also need volunteer opportunities for our clients, which could be almost anything out in the community, even if it’s stuffing envelopes or something for churches, schools, or businesses. Right now we could use some more donated office furniture, desks or chairs, anything that we can use for our skills rooms.