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Over 35 years ago, an organization was formed that would change the face of disability services in northeast Kansas forever. Twin Valley Developmental Services, Inc., founded in 1976 with the cooperation of ARC (association of parents and interested people advocating for services and rights of the people we serve) of Washington and Marshall counties, was created as a place for local adult citizens to come during the day.

Initially funded through a Developmental Disability Council grant from Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services, Twin Valley set up two sheltered work sites — Greenleaf and Beattie, Kan.

Originally the centers serviced 12 clients who lived at home and were brought to the workshop sites. Today, the organization, which has expanded to include several sheltered and independent work and living sites in both towns and several other towns throughout the area, serves nearly 90 adult consumers and 16 children.

Through the years Twin Valley has strived to locate opportunities for its consumers to learn marketable job skills and eventually real, on-site work opportunities.

In 2004, Twin Valley opened a thrift shop that sells fine quality recycled clothing and other goods as well as baling and selling the clothing for delivery to third world countries.

To find other work opportunities, the Business/Marketing Department at Kansas State University was contacted in 1976. With their assistance, the staff began sending out letters to businesses within the community and all of northeastern Kansas in the hopes that there would be interest.

Since that time our people have remained busy completing various work projects ever since. At the time, all of Twin Valley’s jobs were performed at the workshop sites in Greenleaf and Beattie, and the staff at Twin Valley wanted to branch out to local businesses in hopes of placing some of their clients in an actual workplace environment.

The first business placement occurred 10 years after Twin Valley opened its doors. Master Teacher, a Manhattan-based business that markets to educators through publications, workshops and gift products, needed assistance preparing publications for mailing.

Soon after, another local business, Titan Trailers of Waterville, offered to hire consumers to prepare trailers for prep jobs prior to painting. In the beginning, few expected it to last. Today Twin Valley consumers work all over northeast Kansas in businesses as varied as the consumers themselves. Employers include food stores, restaurants, trailer manufacturers and many more.

When people served by the organization worked only in the sheltered workshops their wages totaled only $35,000 annually. After the first couple of years of job placements, many consumers were placed with local employers and in 1997 Twin Valley consumers earned nearly $400,000. This allowed some to own their “own” homes or rent their “own” places, thus blasting many myths that individuals could not be productive and/or live independently. Twin Valley has assisted many individuals to not only get their “own” jobs and live in their “own” place, but to become active and very productive citizens in our local communities.

Today, more than 50 consumers are employed in individual or supported employment. Ed Henry, Twin Valley CEO, credits this to experience in the original work site settings. “These settings allowed both our staff and our clientele to gain the confidence they needed to become productive citizens,” says Henry.

The cost of care, job training, and preparing the consumers for this kind of placement varies according to the needs of the consumer, because some need job coaching once a week and some need one-on-one care literally around-the-clock, says Henry.

The amount of care the organization is able to provide has also expanded in the last 30 years. “In the beginning, we served people with relatively easy-to-serve disabilities. Since that time, the severity level has just grown and grown. Now we can serve basically any severity of development disability. We have or can build a program to fit the needs of almost everyone that comes to us,” said Henry.

Another vital service Twin Valley provides its consumers is the availability of assisted living housing in Greenleaf, Beattie and Marysville. These houses and apartments are available for individual residency and group living situations.

Consumers and their families often seek housing placements when other options, including living at home, aren’t possible or they need care best provided at these facilities. Here, consumers can get all of the individual assistance they need in an environment conducive to their growth.

In addition to services for adult consumers, Twin Valley also provides support for children with disabilities. Some of these services include locating grants for the child’s family to purchase necessary equipment (including wheelchairs, prosthetics and other medical devices), providing respite for parents, and day service or job opportunities for children during the summer months.

Over the course of its history, Twin Valley has worked to provide the most valuable opportunities and services to those in the community who could greatly benefit from them. Through job and life coaching, assisted care, and friendship the organization has well exceeded expectations in its ability to allow individuals served to shape their lives to their liking. While the last 30 years have been an extraordinary step forward for disability services in northeast Kansas, the staff at Twin Valley (now numbering more than 90 people) hopes that the next 30 will be even more amazing.