When kids with autism, Asperger’s and Down Syndrome get too old for high school, the next big challenge is how to build an independent life. That’s what a Plano non-profit specializes in. KERA’s Stella Chavez reports on how the center, which is called My Possibilities, is taking an artful approach.
- Listen to the story that aired on KERA FM:
- My Possibilities is this year’s beneficiary for Art Conspiracy, the annual artist-driven fund-raiser. Art Con 9 is Saturday. More than 100 artists have created work that will be auctioned off at the event.
Instructor Casey Parrott walks around his classroom checking out his students’ work. Some are busy sketching. Others are painting on white canvases — everything from chapels and airplanes to mermaids and nature’s wonders.
Five and a half years ago, this program was merely an idea, notes on a Starbuck’s napkin. A group of moms got together to figure out how best to educate their children who had aged out of public schools. They needed a place where adults with autism, Down syndrome and other learning disabilities could go. It began with 12 clients has grown to 135 adults, who call themselves HIPsters.
That stands for “hugely important person,” says Elizabeth Romo. “That is the center of what we do. We are all about them and what they need and how to make their life better.”
Romo’s the Center’s resource development manager. Students here range in age from 18 to 70. And Romo says every one of them takes their nickname to heart.
“We have HIPster shirts: I’m a HIPster. Helping a HIPster; they are very prideful of their name.”
There’s even a HIPStore where their artwork is sold. Necklaces, bracelets, paintings and scented candles. The HIPsters learn to stock shelves, interact with customers and they get 50 percent of the sales. The other half goes to the art program.
The store’s part of ajob skills program. Parrott says they want students to feel good about themselves when they find a job and start earning a paycheck.
“And that’s kind of built over to the art program,” says Parrott. “We want them to be full artists meaning we want them to sell what they make so they feel some pride and the recognition of their work.”
My Possibilities launched the art program, called Create, two and a half years ago. Beside drawing and painting, students can learn about digital art, photography, drama and sculpture. Next week, they’ll learn to dance.
Mason Owings is 23 and has been involved in the program for a year and a half. He says the experience has helped him work on his behavioral issues. So much so, he was hired.
“They offered me more opportunities here to work here,” says Owings. “I just got hired to be part-time on staff in the mornings from 8 to 11. :07
Parrott says Owings has come out of his shell and flourished in his new role. Which, for these students, is the goal.
“We really want them to be independent, be their own person,” she says.
Just like his peers at My Possibilities, Mason Owings is learning that the possibilities just might be endless.