The history of ALSO is best described as an amazing journey. How did we get here? What made us national thought leaders in community living and support services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
It all started with our impactful mission.
To promote the full inclusion of people experiencing disabilities in the life of their community.
We take this mission to heart–that’s why we call ourselves advocates. ALSO envisions a future in which full community inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is a daily part of life.
ALSO began as a Michigan-based organization called Adult Learning Systems in 1988. In 1997, we branched off and incorporated as the nonprofit Adult Learning Systems of Oregon. This move made ALSO a separate entity from the original organization.
This change coincided with the dwindling population at an institution known as the Fairview Training Center, which developmental disabilities advocates had spent decades decrying their inhumane practices. The Fairview Training Center secluded people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people who deserved to be fully included as vital members of society. In 2000, the Fairview Training Center would close and began transitioning their residents into community-based services.
ALSO, in its first years, took the task of placing former residents of Fairview into 24-hour residential services. Brett Turner, after attending The Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware in July of 2007, came to a monumental realization. Instead of supporting people in group homes that essentially fed into a system of isolation for individuals with disabilities, Brett said this to his colleagues,
“What if we supported them as individuals?… one person at a time?”
Admittedly, advocates for adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities had been pushing this idea for a long time. However, this vision, along with Brett’s leadership, motivated the direct support professionals (DSP) at ALSO to really think outside the box in establishing true person-centered services.
This major paradigm-shift spurred creativity, determination, and innovation that continues at ALSO today. Beginning around 2007, we began several groundbreaking initiatives:
Living Without Boundaries was a day-facility program that got the people we support involved in paid business enterprises, such as:
This program was praised by many Oregon disability services organizations as top-notch as a higher-paying job opportunity for persons with disabilities. We started transitioning in 2013 from this program to our Supported Employment Services, which were officially established in 2016.
With great enthusiasm, we have initiated even more exciting programming.
Today, our supported employment services provide job opportunities and career development to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We partner with companies in the community that are looking for employees while helping those we support find fulfilling and meaningful jobs.
Through individualized support services, job seekers are able to find roles that are a great fit for them, while also increasing independence, building confidence, and contributing to the community. Overall, our disability employment services create opportunities for growth and encourage inclusive workplaces.
In 2017, Darrin Barnham, who started in 2009 as the first Supported Living Services Director, collaborated with Brett Turner (now ALSO’s CEO) on another exciting expansion of services: disability support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in their own home. They agreed that this program must include support for families of children with disabilities.
Darrin is gratified that providing disability support to children allows him to speak with families who don’t feel their kids will ever live independently. He gently and passionately refutes these thoughts, communicating the many available resources and services for children with disabilities.
Amanda Smith and Chaz Volavka are leading the ALSO Art Gallery. ALSO believes not only in art for people with disabilities but created by them as well! This beautiful gallery showcases their work, where all the profits go to the artists.
ALSO DSPs train those we support in using state-of-the-art technology that facilitates increased independence in daily self-care skills, such as self-feeding and communication. Staff helps with payment for these items that often are critical to independent living.
As of September 2022, we’re offering services in Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Deschutes, Umatilla, Josephine, Jackson, Harney, and Klamath County. We’re opening new homes for supported living, and experiencing dramatic increases in employees, training opportunities and referrals.
In this complex 21st century, we are firmly rooted in a positive future for all. This is why one of our future goals is to have all ALSO homes powered by solar energy! Additionally, we want to ensure all people we support have access to the assistive and adaptive technology they need in their daily lives.
We aim to be a leading provider of services in rural Oregon counties, continuing to advocate for freedom of choice and better integrated services. We also strive for a diverse and inclusive work force and board that reflects the totality of our communities.
The DSPs, leadership, and Board of Directors at ALSO continue to push boundaries toward unparalleled services that promote full inclusion in community life. We never shy away from a new idea as we continue our wonderful journey. As long-time behavioral specialist Sarah Scassellati says, “…that’s what I love about this place! You got an idea? Well, try it and see what happens!”
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