Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities (MCBDD) is centered around giving those served the ability to live, learn, and earn in the Marion County community. This mission is only carried out with the partnerships of over 50 local organizations and individual providers who directly serve the intellectual and developmentally disabled population locally.
Based on available resources, MCBDD may provide, or arrange for, service and support administration (or case management), early childhood services, supported living/residential services, adult day services, family support, job training, employment services, Special Olympics, and many others. In 2019 alone, the County Board of DD linked those served with over 40,000 connections to resources and support.
The providers are the true connection and direct support to those served. MCBDD needs to have several options and opportunities for services to ensure a person-centered plan where those served get to choose who they would like to use to provide services.
MCBDD has recently added an Adult Day Service (ADS) provider to its list of options. Wings of an Angel, which was established in 2011 to help provide funding for equipment, burial expenses, and other needs for those with developmental disabilities, added transportation for those served by MCBDD in late 2016. They had a dream to continue to grow and add services and have done so with an ADS program named R.I.S.E. (which stands for their pillars of support; recreation, independence, socialization, and education) that opened in February of 2020.
Owners, Ryan and Heidi Ballinger, definitely have a heart for the people they serve. In fact, they parented a child, Blake, who had multiple disabilities and passed away at age seven in January 2009. Their organization was founded to honor Blake and act as his legacy.
Complications at birth caused Blake to go without oxygen for an extended period causing many developmental challenges. He was diagnosed with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Blakes needs were intense and many; affecting every part of his being. The family went from a typical family of four to a special need’s family of five in the blink of an eye. Blake’s short life consisted of non-stop care. The entire family pitched in to create as much joy as possible for him.
Ballingers also have two grown children (born before Blake), Jordan and Brianna who are both pursuing careers in the field of disabilities. Jordan is a lobbyist for Disability Rights of Ohio and Brianna is in her final year of college with anticipation of a Special Education Degree.
Though exhausting, the entire family said it was also rewarding to have him in their lives and they cherish that time and the memories. The experience led them all to where they are now.
Heidi recalls it all with nostalgia and pride, “We were the parents that said, ‘he can and he will’ – and he did in many cases. His progress and ability to persevere surprised us every second he was on this earth. His siblings were great cheerleaders and caregivers for him. They were trained to help with his medical care and that is likely why they both wanted to go into the careers they choose.”
Ryan adds, “What I learned through Blake is people with developmental disabilities are just people. Even though he could not walk and had a limited vocabulary, he communicated with us and let us know he was happy. It was definitely not easy, but a smile, giggle, or facial expression were the rewards that reminded us, ‘We can do this.’”
The family quickly began to see the void in supporting someone with developmental disabilities. Blake received support from the State for his intense needs but it was not enough. Often, the extra medical expenses that the waiver did not cover weren’t covered by insurance either leaving the family with large medical expenses. This is when Ryan and Heidi started dreaming about helping people like them. That is how Wings of an Angel was born in 2011 with a foundation to support the things that the County Board couldn’t support and insurance wouldn’t support. The organization started by funding things like horse therapy, bikes, wheelchairs, iPad, feeder seats, activity chairs, and even burial expenses – something they never dreamed they would have to worry about, but did upon Blake’s untimely death.
“We wanted to keep it simple for families. If there is a need, we want to fill it,” the Ballinger’s said of their organization. With the addition of R.I.S.E., they have kept that same thought process in mind. There are many rules and regulations that providers must abide by but they keep all of that in the background and truly focus on the goals of the people they serve.
“We realize that leaving home, or sometimes another adult day program, can be scary and nerve-racking for those who may want to come to R.I.S.E. Because of this, we allow for them to come and check it out without a commitment, oftentimes they decide to attend more than one day program which is great because they get different opportunities and experiences from each of us,” Ryan said.
R.I.S.E. prides itself on being very person-centered; meaning every decision made is made with love for those who attend. Often, those who attend make decisions on what fundraisers they do and what activities they participate in. They all decide together what they would like to learn and where they want to go for integrative outings. It is a family atmosphere and Ballingers want to keep it that way.
“I don’t want to get to a point where it is too big and not personalized. That will never happen,” Heidi said. “To us, there are more benefits of staying small and individualized than to grow to a point where we have to sacrifice some of that,” she added.
Having a son like Blake could break some couples, but it is apparent that it has made the Ballinger’s stronger and more united. The two complement each other and feel that they have the perfect balance of strengths and weaknesses to make it work as a married couple and business partners.
“This is not work to us. It is our life and we love every minute of it,” Ryan said. “We never stop thinking of ways to grow our organization and improve for those who choose us.”
“When we first launched R.I.S.E., we wanted something new and different in the way of community day services. I love the fact that there are other day programs and that people have choices. Every provider has a niche and it’s great to see those served choosing more than one option and taking advantage of the variety,” the couple said.
Superintendent of the Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Cheryl Plaster, agreed that it is great to have choices in our community and is happy to welcome R.I.S.E. to the list of options for Adult Day Services.
“This is exactly why the Federal Government mandated that adult day services operate independently of County Boards – to create an environment for options. Of our over 50 providers of various services, seven of them offer Adult Day Service (ADS). That is great for those we serve,” Plaster said.
To find out more about MCBDD’s providers and services, visit www.marioncountydd.org/providers.