Since 1974, has been providing employment services to people with disabilites in Orange County. Many of its clients have been around since the beginning, and as they started to age, it became clear that a solution was needed to make sure they had somewhere to go when they were no longer able to work—or simply wanted to retire like any other member of the workforce.
"Our clients have been with us for so long, that to tell them 'Well, we can't help you anymore, goodbye,' it just didn't feel right," said Henry Michaels, director of Orange County programs for Elwyn. "We wanted to be able to provide them with a program so that they could stay with Elwyn. We could continue to help and serve them, and they could continue to stay with the staff they've been familiar with, friends they've been familiar with rather go into a whole new setting with all new faces."
Elwyn's adult day program started about five years ago with six clients. Today, it serves 26 and has a full-time staff of six. Unlike the company's work program, the day program is a social and activity program that affords its clients the opportunity to remain part of the Elwyn community while enjoying recreational outings, community service activities and educational activities at the Elwyn facilities. Many of the activities are designed around the principle that they should have a meaningful end result, a carryover from the "consumers to producers" philosophy of Elwyn's work programs. For instance, art projects are done with the intention of becoming decorations, and crafts are sold in the lobby to fund outings.
Because many of Elwyn's clients, especially those with Downs Syndrome, are more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease and other form of dementia, the activities are also a way to keep clients' minds stimulated so that they can maintain or even improve the everyday skills they need.
"We also want them to do their best to maintain their level of skills," Michaels said. "While we see the changes, and maybe they don't want to work or they're not suitable for that program, we want them to continue to stay at the level they're at, and not deteriorate any further. If we do everything for them, then they're going to lose that skill."
By all accounts, the program is working. Families and other caregivers have taken note that Elwyn's clients are happier, more talkative and generally more open since joining the day program, and one client recently celebrated his 80th birthday. But, Michaels said, it can be a double-edged sword because many clients eventually do reach the point where even the day program can't offer them what they need on a daily basis. But, he said, there's mutual benefit in being able to keep valued members of the Elwyn family in the fold a bit longer.
"Eventually, there's only so much we can do in some cases," Michaesls said. "And we hate doing that because some of these individuals have been with us forever. After all these years, so have to say, 'I'm sorry, but we have to tell you goodbye,' that's rough. But we'll keep them as long as we can. At least it gives them a few more years."