*This story originally appeared in The Budget’s Jan. 10, 2018 Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
All parents and guardians need a break from their children every now and then to enjoy some time to themselves or focus on other responsibilities, but for those caring for a child with a disability or complex behavioral issue, this time can be difficult to access.
Alco Services of New Philadelphia is dedicated to giving a much-needed break to the caretakers of children and adults with disabilities or a wide range of behavioral and mental health issues along with the peace of mind of knowing that their loved ones are receiving the best possible care.
The agency offers hourly, overnight and weekend-long care for individuals ages 3 to 60 and a weekday program for adults at the Alco Services Center, located in a former group home on Kaderly Street in New Philadelphia. “It just gives caregivers a break to kind of send their loved ones here when they have extra stuff going on,” explained Derrick Beitzel, assistant director for the agency. “Sometimes we say it’s a break for the families, and it’s a break for the kids.”
The building was purchased by the agency last fall and completely remodeled to serve as a comfortable space where guests can engage in a variety of activities while their caretakers are away. Care includes meals and snacks, age-appropriate activities and outings, and supervision by staff members trained in CPR, med administration and crisis de-escalation techniques.
The center features a large common area where meals are served that also doubles as an activity area where guests can work on crafts and play board games. The area can also be used for indoor play during inclement weather, and a secure backyard featuring several large play structures offers plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities whenever the weather is favorable. “It’s fenced in all the way around, so no one’s coming in here that shouldn’t be,” Beitzel shared.
A living room area offers a comfortable space for guests to relax or watch a movie, although Beitzel shared the room’s television and DVD player aren’t actually used very often. “We try to keep it creative and keep them busy and engaged, because sometimes children that maybe have different issues and stuff at home, the go-to is ‘I’ll just put them in front of the tv as the babysitter,’” he explained. “We try not to do that.”
For those requiring overnight accommodations, beds are available in two separate wings of the building, with bedrooms assigned to guests based on age and gender. The center’s library also serves as an additional bedroom during busy weekends.
In addition to engaging in a wide variety of activities available within the center, weekend visitors also go on age-appropriate group outings and take part in service projects throughout the community. For service projects, guests have done things like cleaning up the litter around neighboring businesses and planting flowers for Earth Day, according to Beitzel. Past outings have included visits to local bowling alleys and Akron Zoo and a trip to Wheeling, West Virginia, to see the Oglebay Festival of Lights.
It’s not all fun and games, however. While staying at the center, guests work on hygiene and independent living skills and are expected to pick up after themselves and contribute to the household by pitching in to help with meal preparation and yard work along with various cleaning duties. “It’s just kind of maintaining their independence or increasing their independence,” Beitzel explained. “We encourage them to kind of pick up after themselves when they’re done eating, so they clear their own plates and take them to the sink. We just kind of keep that going, that way it’s just maybe not quite as much for the families at home.”
The purpose of the respite services offered by the agency is to not only to give caretakers and their loved ones some time to relax and regroup, but also to give families the tools they need to stay together, according to agency owner and founder Alice Cooper, who provided the service out of her home for many years prior to opening the center in New Philadelphia. “We’re working with the families and keeping the kids in the homes, and that is what this is mainly about. We want to keep the kids with their families, give them the support they need,” she explained.
Beitzel noted that in many cases, the families utilizing the agency’s services have been referred through Tuscarawas County Job and Family Services or the court system, and children are not being raised by their biological parents but by relatives or foster parents. “Her goal is to keep that kid with their family, however, she can so that they don’t have to go to a foster family, or sometimes we already have a foster family involved, and they’re sending their kid, and so her goal is to keep them from going to another foster family,” he explained. “She wants to keep kids out of the system. She wants to keep them successful in whatever home situation they’re in now just because that displacement is hard on anyone, especially someone growing up.”
Alco Services is a certified Medicaid Waiver Provider licensed through the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities to serve 88 counties. A self-pay option is also available for individuals who do not qualify for the waiver program, those who do not have Medicaid or private insurance and those whose insurance plans do not cover the cost of respite care. The cost of care is $10 per hour for up to five hours, $125 per day and $345 per weekend.
For more information, call 330- 440-6429 or email alcoservices- firstname.lastname@example.org.