09:38 AM

Community Impact: New Directions Georgia

That’s where programs like New Directions Georgia help fill a gap for individuals with autism. Founded by Mary O’Connell, a retired autism educator, the nonprofit organization in Gwinnett County is a day program to serve adults with autism who have significant behavioral and daily living skills needs in a homelike setting. The program is open to adults after they complete school, typically people age 22 and older.

New Directions Georgia began in 2012, when O’Connell helped convert a house in Suwanee to an adult day program for individuals with autism. Today, the center has two kitchens and dining areas where its 26 participants practice daily living skills in a real-world setting.

“We teach the basic functions that many of us take for granted,” said Jason Graham, program coordinator for New Directions Georgia.

The organization recently received a $14,230 grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation to expand its life skills transition apartment – located in the lower level of its Suwanee center. The one-bedroom apartment is a training area that includes a kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom. The grant helped to replace an existing HVAC system in the lower level.

With the life skills transition apartment, participants get hands-on training in independent living. According to Graham, one recent participant used to refuse to help make a bed. When she started the hands-on training in the new apartment with her fellow participants, the woman began helping to make a bed on her own and now leads others to do the same.

At New Directions Georgia, participants’ activities are based on their Individual Service Plan – which outlines goals and strategies for people with disabilities. Activities may include outings to area parks, restaurants, libraries and shopping centers. For each participant, New Directions Georgia works on their goals in collaboration with their family.

“We keep the parents fully involved in developing their living skills,” Graham said.

Without a grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation, New Directions Georgia wouldn’t have been able to offer the life skills transition apartment, according to Graham.

“What this grant did is give our program new light,” he said. “We can teach more (life skills).”

For more informations about New Directions Georgia, visit newdirectionsforautism.com.