March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

STEUBENVILLE — The School of Bright Promise will be increasing its preschool services next year in an effort to help families and hopefully get children into public schools.

Michael Zinno, Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities superintendent, said 75 children are served at the School of Bright Promise and the agency provides help to others who are in public schools.

Zinno said he believes early intervention is key for families hoping for a normal life for their children with disabilities. The preschool will be expanding from seven children now to 24 next year. The preschool is for children ages 3 to 5. There are about 70 kids served through the early-intervention program.

“It is a way to help the community. We need to serve more kids at a younger age. The sooner kids get early intervention, families are better off. Our goal is to get the kids into public schools,” he said.

Zinno wants to see more children served earlier and then there will be a step down in the number of students at the School of Bright Promise.

“We want to see more in the early years and less in the later years. I want to see that step down during the next five years. It is a good first step, but it won’t happen overnight,” he said.

Zinno said many developmental disabilities agencies across the state have closed their schools. Jefferson County has decided the program is too valuable to the community.

The agency also is developing a transition program for older kids. The teens go the School of Bright Promise for half a day and then they are transported to the adult program. Zinno said the agency wants to let the teens and parents get comfortable with the adult day program.

“There is a great comfort level at the school, but we want to integrate them into the adult program or the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School,” he said.

Zinno said the agency wants to provide better services at each end of the population served by the school.

The adult program provides services to about 150 on a daily basis. Case managers at the agency serve about 200 adults. Some of the adults don’t receive daily services of the adult program. Zinno said the case managers make contact with those adults, making sure their needs are being met.

The adult day program changed last year when the privatization was completed. The federal government cited a conflict of interest across the country with developmental disabilities agencies providing both case management and services. Private companies now offer services to the adults, with the goal of the adults becoming more independent and choosing their daily activities. The agency still provides case management.

“There will be more community integration, volunteering, socializing, recreation opportunities and they will be working in the community,” he said.

Zinno said the agency, as a result, said the workshop building off John Scott Highway will be renovated and the training facility on Cherry Avenue will be phased out. Additional offices will be constructed or renovated at the workshop building on the main DD campus. The project is being rebid after the first bids came in more than 10 percent over the architect’s estimate.

The agency provides around-the-clock services to 25 severely disabled adults at Shaffer Plaza.

Zinno said the agency has posted the history of the program on its website. He said it is a “living document.” He said residents can call the agency with information about people served in the past and photographs, He said the photos can be added to the page or even a name of a teacher or volunteer.

“We want to celebrate the past and the people who have made a difference, such as employees with more than 25 years of service,” he said.