Bridgette Chambers, who participates in the local Marshall County Down syndrome group, also founded the non profit D321gner Space Inc., a preschool and resource center based in Elkhart County that will provide preschool, extracurricular activities and outpatient therapy to individuals diagnosed with special needs.
Though still in development, D321gner Space Inc. will serve as both a pre-school and treatment resource center to provide occupational, physical, and speech therapy services for individuals up to the age of 18 and provide support for their families including parenting seminars that will teach them best practices for advocating for inclusion to help their children reach their greatest potential.
Her mission and vision is to “make inclusion mainstream”. Any child with any developmental condition is welcome. Phase One will offer adapted extracurricular activities including Yoga, dance, and art classes to individuals from birth to 18 years of age. Phase Two will offer development support through occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy via a 'push-in' model within the pre-school classroom. Phase Three will offer out-patient therapy at a more affordable cost.
Her daughter Cynthia was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally. Their experience revealed the need for more resources for families and for enhanced public education about inclusion for those who have special needs within their communities.
First Steps of Indiana, of the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS) of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, is an early intervention program that provides services to infants and toddlers up to three years of age who have developmental delays or disabilities. Occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and developmental therapy are offered three times a week in one hour increments, if a child qualifies.
Pre-K services are offered through the Preschool Assisting Children’s Education (PACE) Preschool Program in Elkhart County to attend pre-school in-person inside a school from age 3 to 5. “They go in to a pre-school setting inside of a school for pre-K from 3 to 5. For us there are only two classrooms for all special needs children.”
Chambers wanted for Cynthia to be able to attend the same school as her older sister, Sawyer, who is one year older. “I started doing research early because I have a two and a half year old and I wanted the girls to be able to go to the same pre-school together at the same school. That’s when all this started because I got extremely discouraged that she would be going in to an elementary school for where we’re at and the therapists are getting in to the classroom an average of 20 minutes a month. So we go from three hours a week [First Steps Program] to 20 minutes a month [PACE classroom] and they do it as a group because they are so overwhelmed.”
“So I’m thinking — ‘I’m dropping my kid off at an elementary school with a lot of older kids.’ Who knows if she’ll even be able to walk at three? Our kids have a lot of physical delays as well. That got me asking, ‘Who offers something different?” The Elkhart County Special Education Cooperative (ECSEC) and one other public school based program left Chamber wanting something more inclusive and comprehensive.
She started doing some research. She found a Montessori type of program in Kendallville. “The only thing that’s like what we will be doing is in Texas.”
Chambers wanted to offer a resource that provides pre-school and therapy in one location with more intensive support.
Teachers in the pre-school will be providing individualized care to a classroom of 10 students comprised of 5 (typical) students and 5 students with special needs. Occupational, speech and physical therapy will be incorporated into every facet of care, education and treatment throughout the day. Adaptations will be made for each child's individual needs with therapists co-instructing within the classroom to maximize success. “We’re really excited.”
Serving on her Board of Directors is a Speech Therapist and an Occupational Therapist who both have (advanced) certifications in (field) and each have over a decade of experience. “They will be assisting the teachers in the classroom.”
The plan is to start with one classroom and expand from there.
Phase Three will target providing out-patient therapy at a more affordable cost. Some of the waiting lists for services are over 100 children long. “At our clinic where we attend speech therapy there is a list of over 156 kids in line. So we have people driving all the way out to Warsaw and other places just to receive services.”
Cynthia has been on the wait list for speech therapy since she was born. “We currently use out-patient therapy and it goes through our insurance but we only get 20 sessions a year. On average, for every month and a half we pay out-of-pocket $200. Once those sessions are over its $412 a session.”
Cynthia requires speech therapy bi-weekly due to low muscle tone which impacts her ability to swallow. Her water is thickened with apple sauce to prevent choking. “Our speech therapist actually helps with feeding that way she’s not drowning.”
An open house is being held on Saturday, June 12 from 12 p.m. (noon) to 4 p.m. at Fruit Hills Winery & Orchard in Bristol. The event will serve as a fundraiser and give individuals and families an opportunity to meet with Chambers and the Board of Directors in-person to find out more about the program and ask questions. Food trucks on site will be donating a percentage of their sales to D321sgner Space while live musical entertainment and family friendly activities are offered. Follow the event on Facebook @ D321gner Space, Inc. for updates.
Chambers welcomed individuals and organizations willing and interested in partnering with D321gner Space to contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 574-612-2420.
Families who are interested in connecting with Chambers in-person can make arrangements to meet with her at the Open House on June 12th.