News Article Details

Puzzle Pieces announces upcoming move, expansion of services

Messenger-Inquirer - 8/28/2019

Aug. 28--Puzzle Pieces officials announced Tuesday their plans to consolidate the nonprofit's operations under one roof by mid-November and to open the Owen Autism Center next spring.

They expect the expansion to add about 30 new jobs over the course of the next few years. Puzzle Pieces and its divisions now have 53 full-time and 18 part-time employees.

"I never dreamed my dream would become other people's dream," Amanda Owen, founder and executive director, told a packed room at Tuesday's press conference.

Presently, Puzzle Pieces, which assists people with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older, is at 1512 Frederica St. The nonprofit also operates an adult vocational program named Center Piece at 5010 Back Square Drive.

About two weeks ago, the sale of both buildings was finalized, Owen said. She declined to disclose the identity of the buildings' new owners.

Puzzle Pieces and Center Piece will move to 2401 New Hartford Road by mid-November. Atmos Energy and Daymar College once occupied the building.

On Oct. 7, Center Piece will be the first to move. Plans call for Puzzle Pieces to move Nov. 11.

Owen said the nonprofit has signed a five-year lease-to-own agreement for the four-acre property. That amount of land provides options for future site expansion.

Puzzle Pieces and Center Piece serve 138 clients and have a waiting list of about 30. The building on New Hartford Road will allow the nonprofit to serve 200 immediately.

Also, Tuesday's announcement included plans to open the Owen Autism Center, which will be the first of its kind in Kentucky.

"We heard the needs of our clients. We heard the needs of our families. We heard the needs of our community," Puzzle Pieces co-chairwoman Amy Jackson told the crowd. "With the closing of some programs and the increasing diagnoses of autism in our community, we knew it was time for us to grow and add another piece to our puzzle."

The Owen Autism Center will implement a whole-life approach. The first key element is an inclusive day care for children of all abilities who are ages 18 months to 5 years old.

In September 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education published a joint policy statement on the inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs. The two agencies agreed that families of children with disabilities face barriers to inclusive programs. The result: Children with disabilities are separated from their peers without disabilities.

Early childhood inclusion offers shared benefits for all children, the policy statement read.

"Though this policy statement focuses on including young children with disabilities in early childhood programs, it is our shared vision that all people be meaningfully included in all facets of society throughout the life course," the statement read. "This begins in early childhood programs and continues into schools, places of employment, and the broader community. Inclusion in early childhood programs can set a trajectory for inclusion across the life course, making it critical that we include individuals with disabilities in all facets of society from birth."

Also, the Owen Autism Center will offer after-school and summer components for school-aged students, and it will provide a college advisory program that will offer a peer college mentor, academic support and social integration support, Jackson said.

When children grow too old for service through the Owen Autism Center, other Puzzle Pieces programs will step in with services, such as vocational training, employment opportunities and social-community interaction.

To achieve these whole-life objectives, Puzzle Pieces will partner with Owensboro Community & Technical College, Kentucky Wesleyan College and Brescia University to prepare the workforce, expand resources to educators and provide students with autism access to the college advisory program.

The end result should be the creation of an inclusive, diverse and prepared workforce, Jackson said.

Owen founded Puzzle Pieces seven years ago. Before starting the nonprofit, she taught special needs children at Burns Middle School five years.

She knows firsthand the growth all children experience from an inclusive environment.

The inspiration for Puzzle Pieces came from Owen's childhood experiences. Her older brother, Nick Boarman, has a chromosome disability. She worked and played beside him daily.

"Little did I know, my older brother, Nick, would teach me life lessons, inspire me, and most importantly be the blessing in my life that keeps giving each day," Owen wrote on Puzzle Pieces' website.

"... Nick changed me," she wrote. "Because of Nick, I'm inspired to dream big and make a difference in not only his life but others just like him."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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(c)2019 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

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