Post-Crescent Article published on the front page on 2/22/16
APPLETON – The last six decades have brought dramatic improvements to the lives of people with developmental disabilities.
In the 1950s, they were frequently isolated. Today, they’re out, about and active in local communities.
It’s cause for celebration, though advocates say there’s still much to accomplish. Stigmas remain, and the work to tell their stories and change perceptions continues.
“They’re doing such great things,” said Sonia Barham, executive director of SOAR Fox Cities.
SOAR Fox Cities, formerly known as The Arc, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The organization serves about 1,200 participants.
It was founded at a time when people with developmental disabilities were kept in the home or placed into institutions. Today, just as at the beginning, a major goal is bringing community recognition to what family members knew all along.
“This organization was founded by parents who saw the abilities in their children — not the disabilities — and wanted more opportunities for them,” Barham said.
The organization will celebrate its milestone during the March 3 “SOAR to the Stars” benefit at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel.
To read the full article please click on the link below to the Post Crescent site.
Program hires high-functioning individuals with Autism for contracted I.T. work
APPLETON, Wis. (February 17, 2016) – SOAR Fox Cities is excited to announce its new pilot program Make I.T. SOAR (I.T. stands for Intellectual Technicians). This program gives high-functioning individuals with Autism (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome) an opportunity to be gainfully employed in the information technology industry.
“There are currently no programs that exist in the community that support employment for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum,” said Sonia Barham, executive director of SOAR Fox Cities. “Make I.T. SOAR will provide these individuals who have the technical skills with higher wage earning potential. Our hope is to shine a spotlight on the unique abilities, strengths and untapped resources of people with autism.”
SOAR’s new director of operations, Nick Hanford, and an Autism Specialist will oversee Make I.T. SOAR. They will use an application process to identify approximately 10 qualified individuals 18 years or older to partake in training and assessment modules. After the training and assessment process is complete, the staff will hire five individuals to work as technicians. SOAR Fox Cities will identify and network with local telecommunications, I.T. and small businesses to secure I.T. contracts for the technicians to complete.
According to the Economic Outlook Survey presented by the Fox Cities Chamber in February 2015 and an article published in November 2015 by New North B2B, there is a shortage of I.T. talent in the Fox Cities. Many high-functioning individuals on the ASD spectrum, however, have strong technical skills and interest. These are the two key factors behind Make I.T. SOAR program’s mission of empowering high-functioning individuals with autism to pursue their dreams and utilize their talents in the technology industry.
“Hiring individuals with autism just makes good business sense. They are excellent workers who are dependable, follow company rules, have a low rate of absenteeism and have an extreme attention to detail,” said Hanford. “Local businesses will also benefit from the Make I.T. SOAR program by employing an underutilized workforce that is highly skilled, allowing them to keep their I.T. projects local and cost effective. In addition, our technicians will provide firsthand education to area corporations of the value individuals with autism can bring and help promote acceptance.”
Studies show that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability and autism in U.S. children has increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010. Thirty-five percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school (Shattuck et al., 2012). Some estimates indicate that the rate of underemployment among adults with autism exceeds 90 percent.
“Sadly in our community today there is still a huge stigma around individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Barham. “SOAR Fox Cities is working hard to break this stigma and to have the community as a whole see individuals for their abilities not their disabilities. The Make I.T. SOAR program will play a major role towards the path of acceptance and advancement.”
If your business or if you know of any businesses that would like to partner with SOAR Fox Cities and the Make I.T. SOAR program, please contact Nick Hanford at email@example.com.
About SOAR Fox Cities, Inc.
SOAR Fox Cities, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization in the Fox Cities providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families since 1956. Its mission is to “Empower People with Differing Abilities.” For more information, visit www.soarfoxcities.com.
Nick Hanford Bio
Nick Hanford, SOAR Fox Cities’ newly hired director of operations, will bring his diverse background to Make I.T. SOAR program. Hanford graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a degree in Business Administration after majoring in Economics. From 2000 to 2003, he was a part of the Project Success initiative at the UW Oshkosh where he taught dyslexic students algebra and computing skills, coordinated special needs tests with professors and students, managed lab nights, and trained students in adaptive software.
After college, Hanford spent 13 years at Adaptive Technology Resources where he channeled his skills to provide training to clients in a variety of software. He consulted with Wisconsin school districts to help them set up assistive technology teams, establish universal libraries, install and configure software with I.T. departments, and provide training for students and staff.
Nick recently completed a Master’s of Business Administration program at UW Oshkosh. He is also part owner of a shoe store, runs his own property management company, works as an independent I.T. consultant, is a real estate agent and works with Fox Valley Tech in its OAR (Occupational Aide Readiness) program.
Appleton, WI (December 28, 2015) SOAR Fox Cities, Inc. is pleased to announce that the Bob and Pat Endries Charitable Fund within the Brillion Area Family of Funds has awarded SOAR Fox Cities with a $10,000 grant to purchase uniforms for athletes competing in SOAR’s Special Olympics (SO) program.
SOAR’s SO program provides year-round sports training and competition opportunities for children (starting at age 8) and adults with cognitive disabilities. SO helps the athlete develop physical fitness, teamwork, courage and confidence, good sportsmanship, responsibility and leadership skills. Athletes experience joy and share friendships with other athletes, families and friends.
SOAR Fox Cities is the 3rd largest Special Olympics in the state. The eight sports our agency currently offers are: Bowling, Team Basketball, Basketball Skills, Powerlifting, Aquatics, Track & Field, Softball, Tee-ball and Bocce. SOAR is dedicated to empowering individuals with developmental disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports, training and competition. The sports we offer gives our athletes a safe, fun environment for them to grow in self-confidence, keep a steady social life, and practice healthy, active living.
SOAR’s SO program along with each SO Agency is financially independent and responsible for supporting all the expenses accumulated throughout the year. The majority of our athletes are at, or below poverty level. Without financial support from the community, these athletes would not be able to participate in any of the programs we offer. This would leave them isolated, inactive, and unhealthy. We are the only SO Agency in the area that offers a rental program for our athletes. This helps with the financial burden of our athletes, but also increases the need for funding.
Due to SOAR’s new name and logo, Special Olympics uniform guidelines, and a growing number of participating athletes with financial limitations, SOAR needed to reach a goal of $40,000 to provide new uniforms. This is roughly $150/athlete. Late summer, SOAR launched a fundraising campaign to raise funds for the new uniforms. SOAR was successful in raising around $25,000 since late May. The generous donation from the Bob and Pat Endries Charitable Fund within the Brillion Area Family of Funds along with a few additional supporters allowed SOAR successfully reach the campaign goal before the end of the year!
Executive Director of SOAR Fox Cities, Sonia Barham, gives her gratitude to Pat and Bob; “We are so grateful to Pat and Bob for their generous contribution! It will not only give our athletes pride and confidence but will showcase our agency’s new name that better represents our participants journey as they SOAR in the community.”
Appleton, WI (December 28, 2015) SOAR Fox Cities, Inc. is happy to welcome Amber Nelson as the new Director of Development to their team. Amber has 5 years Development experience in different nonprofit organizations throughout Wisconsin. After graduating for UW-Oshkosh, Amber interned at the Special Olympics Wisconsin Fox Valley Area. Here is where she realized her passion for working at nonprofit organizations and fundraising. Amber then joined AmeriCorps where she was a VISTA member at Habitat for Humanity of Dane County in the Development Department. After her year of service ended she joined the Development team at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, WI. Amber worked at the Wilson Center for almost 4 years where she gained valuable experience in special event fundraisers, corporate relationships and annual fund appeals. As a High School graduate from Kimberly, Amber is very excited to be moving back to the Fox Valley and close to her family.
Nelson stated: “I love working in Development! Seeing the generosity in others in either monetary or in kind donations is truly inspiring. I am very excited to be back in the Fox Cities and to be working at SOAR Fox Cities. The work that the team at SOAR is doing is so important and I feel honored to help them further their mission of empowering people with differing abilities.”