It's tough being disabled, and it doesn't help if the place you need to go for training and support is clear across the county. But all that's changed with the opening of the Chantilly location of Mount Vernon-Lee Enterprises (MVLE).
"How pleased and proud we are to see this facility coming to western Fairfax," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) at Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It's been long-awaited and certainly is welcome."
The Springfield-based, not-for-profit, MVLE began in 1971 with a handful of volunteers serving four people with disabilities. Since that time, it's become a nationally accredited agency serving more than 300 people a year in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties, plus the District of Columbia.
Now, due to an ever-increasing demand in western Fairfax County for individualized support services for people with multiple disabilities, MVLE has opened a second location in Chantilly. It's off Route 50 west at 3855 Centerview Drive, Suite 100; phone 703-569-3900.
"Previously, people had to drive to Springfield for services," said MVLE Vice-President April-Lyn Pinch-Keeler. "The Department of Education, Special Education Services, in Fairfax County did a statistics survey and learned there was a more severe need for help for people with serious disabilities in this side of the county."
For more than three decades, MVLE's mission has been to create opportunities for people living with disabilities to participate successfully in community life. It develops life-enhancing employment and support services leading to their clients' increased independence, participation and responsibility.
Recognizing that every person has different needs and goals, MVLE fashions customized services for each client so he or she will have the most successful outcome possible. "For individuals with developmental disabilities, we'll provide a vocational-type center to teach them job skills," said Pinch-Keeler. "They'll also do creative arts and occupational and physical therapy here. And we have a nurse on site for support services."
But MVLE's first priority is to provide the needed services. The Chantilly site will have 25 clients by July 1 and plans to add 25 more, each fiscal year, to eventually reach a total of 125 clients. They're referred to the facility by the Fairfax/Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB).
The new center officially opened April 14 and, said Pinch-Keeler, "It's exciting to be able to meet people's needs. And since this facility was specifically designed for the severely disabled population, it has lots of space. Our theme is 'Creating futures one person at a time.' And this [center] increases people's quality of life and gives us more opportunity to serve."
Jim Thur, executive director of the CSB, called it a major step forward. "It allows us to establish a presence in western Fairfax County where we'll be experiencing major growth over the next decade," he explained. "And we'll be able to offer services in a more humanitarian way. This saves travel time and costs and is better for the environment."
FasTran ferries clients back and forth to the Springfield center for services and, said Thur, before the Chantilly center opened, "We had people riding an hour-and-a-half away in a van to the eastern and southern part of the county." He said the CSB is providing a portion of the funding for the building lease, and MVLE will operate the program. It also receives Medicaid funding, plus additional money from the county Board of Supervisors.
Sheri Sobkowiak, MVLE's director of center-based services, said the program serves people age 22 and up, and the ones at Chantilly are mostly in their 30s and 40s. Since, oftentimes, the Springfield facility was at capacity, she's delighted with the new one here.
"We've already had groups of people transitioning in, and it's gone smoothly," she said. "We want to provide people with the opportunity to have paid employment, plus really meaningful days in the center."
MVLE enhances client's life skills such as hygiene, safety and coping by offering exciting, themed activities via art, music, work and therapeutic positioning. The latter, for example, helps people improve their range of motion, balance when walking and the strength in their legs.
Specialized equipment includes parallel bars, mats, large balls and devices to strengthen hands and aid in pincer control. Said Sobkowiak: "We even have standing tables to help people in wheelchairs be safely in different positions."
She said MVLE is considering, in the future, having possible mailroom-training opportunities so clients might be able to work for local businesses. Meanwhile, art activities at the center help clients develop their fine and gross motor skills and give them practice in staying focused on a task. And they're also taught how to use computers.
In the horticultural center there, they learn to follow instructions and keep their environment safe (i.e., if they're careful not to spill water on the floor, they won't slip). They can learn safety skills in the community, too, such as what to do and who to ask for help if they get lost, and even how to cross streets.
Through music activities, clients learn movement, relaxation, coping and socialization — working together as a team. Each improvement leads to more self-esteem and, said Sobkowiak, "We also strive for self-advocacy so — when people are out and about in life — they feel empowered to get their needs met and be able to do what they want to do."
Besides Frey, other dignitaries attending Monday's ceremony included Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. "Kate" Hanley (D); Roxann Ridley, chairman of the CSB's Mental Retardation Services committee; MVLE President Tim Farr; MVLE board of directors chairman Frank Doe; MVLE board of directors member Karen Roberson; CSB chairman Jessica Burmeister; former MVLE Executive Director Joseph Hemeling; and Ellen Graves, representing Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).
"This building and service center have come about because of a collaboration and partnership between the [CSB] and Fairfax County," said Farr. "Our work, however, is not done.
"We can only create these opportunities [via] local, state and federal partnerships and with local businesses helping leverage the costs by creating the environment in which we deliver our services." He said MVLE can only be successful through the continuing efforts of local government to allocate sufficient funds to help all citizens with disabilities.
Hanley spoke of the significance of providing a good quality of life for all county citizens. "In a county of a million people, it's easy to look at the surface and not at the needs of the people, one person at a time," she said. "How we allocate the resources is important to how we create opportunities for people."
Ridley said everyone knows of the great need for vocational and day-support services in this part of the county, and she thanked MVLE's vendors and the school-system staff that helped assess and quantify the need for the new site here. Said Ridley: "The benefits will be immeasurable."