*This story first appeared in The Budget’s March 14, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
The Tuscarawas County Board of Developmental Disabilities is working to create a new support system for area individuals with developmental disabilities and has recruited a passionate young leader to spearhead the project.
The system, known as the FANS Network (Friends, Advocates and Neighbors), is designed to build relationships within the community and create a network of local volunteers willing to offer their time and talents to help the individuals served by the agency meet their specific needs. FANS Networks have already been established in other counties across the state. Creating a similar network in Tuscarawas County has been a goal of the local board for several years, but, until recently, the agency didn’t have anyone on staff who had the time and energy to invest in getting the project off the ground.
“I think it was at least two years we were trying to get FANS going, but nobody just had the extra time to do it,” said Terri Stein, an employee of the Tuscarawas County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
That’s when 25-year-old Nicole Donant-Moore stepped in to propel the project forward. Originally hired as an intern at the consignment store, Donant-Moore quickly earned a reputation for her strong work ethic and initiative. “She did so well at the store,” Stein shared. “She took over Facebook and took over inventory.”
With Donant-Moore’s nine-month internship at the store coming to an end and the FANS Network remain- ing at a standstill, Stein and the staff at Charmed decided to reach out to TuscBDD Superintendent Nate Kamban to see if she could potentially take the lead in the project.
Donant-Moore was hired and officially stepped into her role as the FANS Network administrative assistant in January. Within a few months, she was able to get the project on track. For Donant-Moore, FANS is especially meaningful because she knows first-hand the struggles of with living with a disability. “I have cerebral palsy, so it hits home for me,” she shared. “In a way, it kind of made sense for me to take on this program and be able to help move forward with it.”
Working closely with other staff members from the local board, she has developed a series of four initiatives, designed to drive the growth of the program.
The first is the Make a Memory Team, an initiative that invites community members to help provide a special experience for a person with a disability that they might not otherwise have been able to afford. “You donate gift cards or whatever you want to donate to that specific program,” Donant-Moore explained. “That gets matched to somebody in the system.”
The second initiative is the Novel Adventures Book Club, a monthly book discussion group that is open to anyone in the community with a love of reading, with or without a disability. “It’s really a great way for people to meet up and hang out,” explained Kerri Silverthorn, community relations and special projects coordinator for Tusc BDD. “People with developmental disabilities sometimes don’t have as many of those kinds of social opportunities, and so this is another way for them to get together and socialize and interact while they’re having fun.” The club meets the first Wednesday of each month at 4 p.m. at Charmed Gifts to talk about a selected reading.
The third initiative is called Game Time and includes a fun evening of game playing from 6 to 8 p.m. each Satur- day from May through August at Charmed Gifts. “That’ll be any kind of board game or maybe any outside games depending on the weather,” Donant-Moore explained.
The fourth and final FANS Network initiative is called Serving Hands. This initiative strives to build a network of community volunteers that can be called upon to assist with meeting a particular need for an individual with a developmental disability. The network is currently seeking local volunteers who would be willing to assist with things like moving furniture, doing landscaping, completing minor home repairs or helping with other tasks as needed.
To help get the word out about the new program, a FANS Network launch party is being planned for Thurs- day, April 26, from noon to 2 p.m. at Charmed Gifts. Charmed Gifts is located at 117 West High Avenue in New Philadelphia. For more info, call 330-339-3199.