By Ryan McGinnis
The Amplify Life team was immensely grateful when they first got the keys to their new 20,000 square foot recreational center, donated by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. But before the move-in could take place, an effort was needed to look past the building’s aging edifice and dull interior to see the space’s full potential.
Thanks to several donations and partnerships, renovations went into effect and they brought the warehouse-like space into a lively recreation center featuring open social spaces, table games, and a cantina for Amplify Life clients to learn how to operate a small business.
In the end, the mindset the Amplify Life team took to bring out the most of their new building is an apt reflection of how the organization works with its clients, “who — unfortunately — are not always at the forefront of people’s minds,” according to Jessica Daum the Executive Director of Amplify Life.
“People with disabilities are often overlooked,” Daum said. “But that is not the case here.”
Fulfilling a community need
Amplify Life is the seedling of a camp organization that formed back in 1973 on the same mental health campus that the current team relocated to. Back then it was simply a summer camp. Some time later the outfit moved to a more fitting location near Mt. Lassen where they continued to provide activities for children and young adults several weeks out of the year under the name Camp LotsAFun.
However, by 2014 it became apparent that there was a greater social problem that needed to be addressed. Amplify Life grew out of this desire to help beyond what the summer camp could offer, bringing employment, social and educational opportunities to children and adults with intellectual, developmental, and emotional disabilities.
Cindy Oesterle-Prescott knew the problem firsthand. When her child, Michael, turned 22 years old he was no longer eligible to receive aid by the school district, which, in years prior, was the main support arm for parents like her trying to raise a special needs son.
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After they age out, there’s nothing, according to Oesterle-Prescott. This coming of age presents a tremendous challenge for parents in similar situations across the country. Without the social and educational programs provided by the school district, opportunities are few and far between for special needs persons to find a job — let alone find a community of friends and supporters beyond the nuclear family.
This is one of several reasons why Oesterle-Prescott, now the Office Manager for Amplify Life, joined the team.
“I don’t want him just sitting at home,” Oesterle-Prescott said. “I want Michael to be the best he can be.”
A constant in the lives of many
Today, Michael works for Amplify Life. He aides the program coordinator with event setup and everyday caretaking of the new facility. Though, on a greater scale, his work achievements symbolize the very mission behind the nonprofit’s goals.
According to Daum, Amplify Life takes great stride to help individuals like Michael with what they call the “transitional period,” or what can be described as the rut many mentally disabled individuals face when they age out of school-district sponsored programs and need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. It’s akin to a delayed high school graduation. And to no surprise, the parents of these young adults often take the brunt of this stress.
Amplify Life is there to ease the transition period, as well as to help parents with the all-encompassing strains accompanied by having a child with disabilities, according to Daum. They do so by having a holistic approach to their care, providing recreational, social and work programs to their activities roster. They have also expanded their programs to a year-round schedule.
However, most surprisingly, Amplify Life never ages out their participants. They have over 200 participants ranging from 12 to 78 years old. This means participants like Michael, whether or not he works for the organization, will have a community of friends and supporters for as long as he grows old.
“Amplify Life is the one thing that doesn’t change in their life,” Oesterle-Prescott said.
Most evidently, Michael suffers from a speech impairment which makes it difficult to hold a conversation or be a strong job applicant in any traditional sense. But this doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive member of society, according to Oesterle-Prescott and the rest of the Amplify Life team. They constantly take note of how learning scenarios or activities can be modified to give Michael — or any participant — a sense of dutiful responsibility in the workplace, or a chance to enjoy activities the average person takes for granted.
This stretches far beyond mere camp related workshops. Amplify Life has gone far enough to co-sponsor an adaptive Crossfit class with Upstate Nevada.
“They adapt the Crossfit class for me too,” Oesterle-Prescott jokes.
With each new adapted event, partnership or workshop Amplify Life creates for its clients, there is a shared mindset of seeing past their disabilities — that there is more to them than what meets the eye. The same can be said of how they made their newly inherited space feel like home.
For more information about Amplify Life, visit their website at: http://www.amplifylife.org/