She’s living the dream. Having grown up with her brother Nick (now 32), who was born with a delay in cognitive functioning, Amanda Boarman Owen fully understands the challenges facing families with special needs children. “That originally is the heart that built the idea behind Puzzle Pieces, to be able to support people like my brother [with services] that were not out there to support him and the families… we are the only after-school program that meets the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities… and we’re open year ‘round…when schools are cancelled, we’re open; there’s no other place like that,” said Amanda, who radiates genuine love and abundant enthusiasm for the program of which she speaks.
Puzzle Pieces provides the much-needed structure and place of purpose that Owensboro needed; a fact reinforced by Boarman’s life-long family experiences, and by having taught in a multiple disabilities classroom for six years at Burns Middle School. She ultimately realized the same fears, needs and questions that had been there with her parents persisted with other parents in similar situations: What happens after school? What happens when they graduate? What happens when they get older? “We wanted other options out there besides being institutionalized, besides being in a group home if they still wanted to live at home, besides having a one-on-one care-giver all the time. We are that fourth option, in a sense, for the parents and for the clients as well,” Amanda said.
That very real need is being fulfilled within the Owensboro community via Puzzle Pieces, which presently serves 64 clients. Puzzle Pieces first opened their doors in September 2012. On average, Amanda estimates receiving 10 referral calls weekly. The facility tries to keep a minimum 3:1 ratio of clients to helpers. Medicaid reimbursements stipulate a 1:1 ratio; 20 of their clients now qualify for Medicaid. Private-pay clients’ care is also based on level of need, with some requiring the 1:1 ratio and others flourishing with higher ratios. According to Amanda, “The requirements are out of this world,” in completing background checks and processing the data required to hire staffers. It often takes more than a week to certify potential workers. Puzzle Pieces has established a pool of reserve helpers, who do not necessarily need prior experience but rather a big heart, patience and a “good fit” for specific clients. “Our staff is taking on a family approach. For example, we had a client that had his 22nd birthday at a restaurant last night and our staff went. I think that’s cool. I saw it on Facebook,” Amanda said. “Some of the things that our staff is doing with clients are what makes us unique and special. That’s important for me as their leader and their boss to continue to create that atmosphere.” That cohesiveness and family atmosphere are evident throughout the colorful, warm, inviting atmosphere within the Puzzle Pieces facility, located on Frederica Street.
Still, the dream comes with challenges. It’s a large facility. Individualized plans are needed for all 64 clients. Some are adults. Some are students. One of those 64 clients might just be a once-a-month Saturday client, because they are coming from Butler County and “cannot utilize the other sessions,” Amanda said. Others just need the after-school sessions. Combined, Puzzle Pieces serves 30-35 different clients daily, with each day taking on a new combination of clients and activities. On this given week, the staff had taken 20 adult clients on a city bus to the bowling alley. Everyone is on a different plan, which staffers try to make unique in support of each client. “It’s a juggling act of who’s coming on what day,” Amanda explained.
Prior to enrollment, client needs are assessed and parents/guardians are conferred with to establish a plan of care and to set goals within Puzzle Pieces’ six programs: life skills, sensory, social interaction, community connection, physical activity and rec-leisure. Each day these programs are addressed with different respective clients, according to their goals. “Our mission is to better the quality of life for the clients we serve. In order do that, we need consistency and we need to set goals and to be able to monitor those goals—to hold us and that client accountable. We are not just a baby-sitting service; we are truly an activity day center, that’s doing activities to better the lives of the clients we serve, within a social environment,” said Amanda, who exudes compassion and confidence.
Classified as a non-profit, Puzzle Pieces is overseen by a 12-member board. As the executive director and founder, Amanda is one of three non-voting board members (along with Kathy Hempel, business director, and Kelly Evans, program director) who answer to the board. Amanda was the writer and primary solicitor in the application process for an Impact 100 grant, which Puzzle Pieces recently received—a $100,000 gift. “I realize how blessed Puzzle Pieces is to receive such a grant from these ladies, because we’re so new, and I understand that it is a wow factor all of its own. A lot of different ladies came and walked through…many left in tears…they saw the difference we are making right before their eyes when they visited…and they saw the difference we are making in such a short time…and the impact we could have in reaching out to more, to become better at what we do, to help push us in that direction,” Amanda said. That push comes by way of monies to be used for capital improvements: renovated bathrooms, secure front doors, handicap-accessible ramps, a new sensory room and repaved parking areas.
“Impact 100 will forever be a piece to our puzzle,” she said. Her shining moment became an epiphany to her whole family. Nick was gifted to them for a larger purpose, to extend ability awareness within the community. “To see other people believe in my dream inspires me to do even more.”