Winston Churchill could have been writing about the East Side Day Academy when he said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
That is true for the owner/director and her staff at the new East Side Day Academy for developmentally disabled and intellectually disabled adults. For Thomas resident, Rebekah Elliott, opened the East Side Day Academy in October of 2015 to address the needs, services, and activities for developmentally disabled and intellectually disabled adults. She has only been open for a few months but she is already at about half capacity with plans to grow.
The East Side Day Academy is a pretty remarkable place tucked away in the retail center of Eastgate. There are tiny miracles happening here. Rebekah says that “I designed this to what a typical person who may not be working would do during the day - laundry, cleaning, lunch with friends, volunteer, physical activities.” So that’s what they do. But she wants their experiences to be rich and varied. She is developing an urban garden at the facility - grill, picnic tables, gardens, flowers, shrubs, vegetables. Seed plants are thriving in the window containers at this point just waiting for transplant. She will have an early crop of tomatoes and squash.
She nurtures the needs of disabled adults. She points to the large wall calendar. “Most day programs offer one community outing per week. This is the week. There are multiple outings as well as activities outlined for the week. Today they are mall walking. We invite local churches to come out and walk with us and then join us for a cup of coffee. We volunteer at a food pantry every other Tuesday. We volunteer once a month at a horse stables and at the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, and we are developing a relationship with a nursing home so we can volunteer twice a month there.”
Her clients range in age from 21 to 73 and cover a spectrum of disabilities - Down’s, cerebral palsy, autism. But they are building a supportive community at the Academy.
The center has a computer center with tablets and computers where they learn how to fill out applications and can communicate with family. There is a small gym, a kitchen, a TV room, and a dining area. One of the most interesting things is the room where they post their goals and monitor their success. She says that people are often good at setting goals but are terrible with following through.
I met David, who is 57 and has been institutionalize since he was a boy. He never spoke until recently but he is quite aware. “He never got one on one care or instruction. He wouldn’t look at people and wouldn’t touch. Now he loves hugs. One staff member was leaving and she said goodbye to him and he repeated the word which stunned everyone. We bawled our eyes out at that.” Rebekah chokes up recalling the story because it was such a breakthrough. David now likes to joke with Rebekah and he loves to vacuum. He has become a bit of an imp.
Rebekah has been in this field for about 30 years and saw an opportunity to help others in a different and less institutionalized setting. Her clients come from all over Hamilton and Clermont Counties. Two even travel all the way from the west side of Cincinnati to Eastgate every day for her specialized care.
Her passion for social issues run deep. Her father was a minister and had a church on York Street. He was part of a group that went after the mob. “I remember sitting in the parsonage when a bomb went off. The spice rack and stuff on the wall fell down. The explosion was nearby” but it rattled the family as well as the building. They had encounters with the KKK which resulted with a cross burning in the their yard. And her father took her to an anti-war march in Washington. So it’s no surprise that she would be active in nurturing those who need help.
She is passionate about her vocation. She gets excited when she relates an achievement of a client or a staff member. She is excited to go to work each day. One of her mantras is, “We can’t change the past but we can change today.” And that offers so much hope.
The CDC reports that “Recent estimates in the United States show that about one in six, or about 15%, of children aged 3 through 17 years have a one or more developmental disabilities.” That is a significant population that is underserved by current support systems. The East Side Day Academy fills a void that is sorely needed.
If you would like to learn more about the East Side Day Academy visit the website at www.eastsideacademy.com. Donations toward the garden and volunteers are welcome as well.