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Community Options, Inc. – Supporting People with Disabilities

By Kevin Brown

A fulfilling job and a decent place to live are often taken for granted. For those with intellectual disabilities, employment and housing markets can be impossible to navigate, putting jobs and housing out of reach.

Community Options, Inc., a national non-profit with offices in four western Pennsylvania counties, seeks to break down those barriers to help people with intellectual disabilities find meaningful employment and clean, safe housing.

“That’s a pretty large array of services when you say employment and housing,” says Bridget Haney, regional director for Community Options in western Pennsylvania. “Services range from independent living to small, single family homes where we provide staff around the clock.”

“Once we have an individual who is referred for services, we find out where in the county they want to live and that’s where we will look for a home,” Bridget explains. “We either buy homes - we own many of our homes - or we will lease a home.”

“Housing can range from an apartment where we help people to live independently with direct care staff to drop in and help them with budgeting, groceries, etc. They are very independent and pay all their own bills,” says Bridget. “We also have single family homes where individuals have 24/7, 365-day staff to help them.”

In western Pennsylvania, Community Options has offices in Butler, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Washington. They operate 57 homes and support 97 people in those homes. That support comes from more than 400 direct care professionals who provide a variety of services.

“Our direct care professionals help with cooking, cleaning or laundry, grocery shopping, getting to and from medical appointments, dental appointments, work - whatever those individuals in the home need support with – administering medications, making sure they have healthy meals, those sorts of things,” Bridget notes.

“We also have five maintenance personnel in the region to do whatever maintenance needs to be done in the homes,” she says.

The other side of Community Options’ mission is to find suitable daily activities for people with disabilities. Depending on the individual’s interests, abilities and skills, that comes in the form of community services or competitive employment.

“We have many individuals involved in community services. These are folks who don't want competitive employment, but are busy every day doing something of interest to them. Some go to the gym and work out, some volunteer, and some do recreational activities,” Bridget notes. Community Options currently has about 60 people enrolled in community services.

“We also have people working in competitive employment positions and we provide job coaching and on-site support to those individuals. Typically, our individuals say ‘I want to get a job at such-and-such a place’ and that's where the job coach will help them fill out their application and get ready for the interview. It's driven by the interests of the person,” she says.

Those in competitive employment earn minimum wage or above. “We will not place anyone into employment for less than or at least minimum wage or higher,” Bridget says. The pandemic has reduced the number of people in competitive employment, but 15 individuals are still employed.

Connor Shrum is a Community Options success story. Connor, 22, recently started a new job with Giant Eagle in Peters Township. “He wanted to work during the pandemic, to give back and really do something meaningful. He started working at Giant Eagle in March and works about 20 hours a week, bringing the carts in, doing the cart organizing, and cleaning the carts, which is one of those jobs directly in the line of COVID-19,” Bridget says. “That is a huge success story for us.”

If you are interested in the work that Community Options does in the community, there are a number of ways to help, according to Bridget.

“Volunteers can have a huge impact on the services we provide,” Bridget says. “Our Business Advisory Council meets quarterly and is made up of professionals who help us find employment, plan special events like our Cupid’s Chase fundraiser, plan employee appreciation campaigns and many other things. We also partner with local businesses that are interested in providing job training experiences.

Like most non-profits, Community Options has been affected by the pandemic and is working with limited resources. Donations from the public are welcome and can be made online by visiting www.comop.org and clicking on the “Get Involved” tab. Donors, volunteers and those looking for more information about Community Options’ services can also contact Bridget directly by phone at (724) 825-4408 or by email at bridget.haney@comop.org.

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