About the Gathering Place:
The main purpose of the Gathering Place is to outreach, educate and advocate for vulnerable adults and children, and their families in the Big Bend Area. We specialize in people with disabilities (intellectual and physical) which includes children and adults. We are unable to support mental health disabilities at this time. Our organization is not only for people with disabilities, but run by them on a volunteer basis. Disabilities represented on our board are: hearing impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Lou Gehrigs Disease, and Down syndrome. Our goal is to support vulnerable people to advocate for themselves and support each other. We provide 3 core services: Information and Referral, Advocacy, and Peer Support.
Our board is currently made up of 7 members. 6 out of 7 have a disability (our quota is 50% of our board has a disability). Many of our board members have been struggling with health issues, so we are looking for some new board members to help out.
Joyce Page, and Randell Resneder are the board members who provide the most information, referral and advocacy services. We do not provide any direct care, but we can support families or individuals to find the services they need. This also includes, but is not limited to serving on local and regional committees to help the community at large.
Peer support is generally provided through support organizations such as Special Olympics or Big Bend Down Syndrome Association. We provide some administrative and fundraising support to both of these groups. We also have a social group called Amazing Amigos for families and individuals with disabilities.
The need for our services has continued to be minimal. We have been privileged to continue to help a few people who need information about services, and to advocate for some adults with disabilities but the demand continues to be low. In 2013, we decided there was not enough demand for an actual staffed location, so we gave up our “center”. We have continued to put most of our effort and man power into supporting Special Olympics and the Benevolence Fund.
Big Bend Independent Special Olympics Team is now into its second year. They have 5 active athletes and several others who have expressed interest, but do not show up. The 5 athletes who have participated have enjoyed it immensely. They have 4 Class A volunteers who are certified coaches. Due to lack of interest from athletes, families and volunteers, they are keeping a minimum schedule of events and activities. Learning all the procedures related to Special Olympics Texas has kept the volunteers busy. The team has done minimal fundraising due to the rigid SOTX rules related to team fundraising.
The Gathering Place board has agreed to help with fundraising for the “special athletes” who make up the Big Bend Independent Special Olympics Team. We have paid mainly for travel expenses to train coaches in El Paso, attend competitions in El Paso and to get equipment for our athletes. We have kept records of income and expenses for the special athletes.
We met the Special Olympics team in Ft Stockton and learned about the way they are operating. They are serving people with disabilities of all ages as an independent team just like BBISO. They are taking donations for their “special athletes” and using the money for their team without sending anything to Special Olympics Texas. This keeps all the donation money local. They also have the support of their schools and have free use of buses, drivers and donated gas! BBISO would like to get to that point if possible. They have contacted the last school superintendent about getting the kids involved, but we just heard that we have a new superintendent.
Another group we have been affiliated with us the Big Bend Down Syndrome Association which has not been active for a couple of years. They had a meeting last December with four families from Alpine represented. We hope to see the group continue to grow.
Ginger Hillary has continued to work with St. James Episcopal church to put on dances for our social group, the Amazing Amigos.
We set up the Benevolence fund originally for Eddie Leyva. This last November, we took donations for the benevolence fund for Rebecca’s eye surgery. We raised about $4000. total for her eye surgery. Anyone with a disability, who has a need, can request that the Gathering Place help them with fundraising. The request has to be brought to the board and fit criteria.
Transportation is one of our biggest needs in the area. People with disabilities just can not get out especially in the bad weather. Most of them walk where they need to go. We have had to advocate for them at TRAX several times because TRAX has been hard to work with when requesting “public transportation”. I believe we would be able to recruit more athletes for Special Olympics and more attendees to events if we had transportation. Bob Schwartz of the Transportation Department had mentioned a grant for rural areas for transportation. I think now that we have our 501-3C, I would like to look into this grant. Joyce has recently been asked to participate in a Far West Texas/El Paso Regional Transportation Coordination Committee (WTEP) for public transportation coordination planning.
What are our needs?
Peer Support Needs: Social Event coordinator.
Over the last few years, the movement in society has been to integrate people with disabilities with people without disabilities, starting with the school children. This has been a positive step toward acceptance of people with disabilities, however, people with disabilities still have needs that can not be met in the regular community. Many relationships between disabled and non-disabled made in schools or in the community are based on benevolence. Well-meaning people befriend those with disabilities, but the relationships that result are not always real bonds of friendship.
Parents of children and adult children with disabilities greatly benefit from peer support as well. Coming together to share common successes and frustrations can be very healthy.
One of the goals of Peer Support is to facilitate opportunities for friendships to develop among people with disabilities. Many of the adults with disabilities who live in our area are isolated and lonely. They may have jobs and family activities, but they do not know the joy of a good friend to go to the movies with. Unfortunately, these people often are unable to initiate these social events, so we need to help them by planning and facilitating the events for them. Just planning a movie night and transportation is beyond their ability.
Special Olympics has attempted to meet this need. It is a good program, but we could do more. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities and their families in this area do not know or understand the need for peer support.
Needs for Special Olympics: Class A Volunteers needed which includes: Fundraising man power, transportation to practices for our athletes, coaches and assistants, administrative tasks such as finances. Continued funding for transportation to competitions, bowling practices, uniforms and equipment.
Transportation Needs: Transportation coordinator. Direct transportation of people to our events. Grant writer to be able to get our own transportation.
Marketing Needs: In April of 2013, we participated in a Disability Awareness Week. We did a major push in advertising and community awareness events. We would like to do this again but we do not have the man power.
The Avalanche has been terrific at covering our events. We need to continue to get the word out this way.