Owensboro-based Behavior Associates has been providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families for the past 30 years. While founder Stanley Bittman retired several years ago, the business is still thriving under his daughter Maggie Sergeant, who is committed to developing strong relationships with their clients.
At the company’s recent holiday party, former and current employees wore matching T-shirts bearing the words “Behavior Associates, Vintage 1992,” to commemorate the company’s origins. Bittman, the man responsible for starting the company in November of 1992, jokingly typed his own name tag for the occasion that proudly displayed the words “Behavior Associates Founder.”
“I was just having such a good time with the idea that the company had been around for so long and I was proud of it,” Bittman said. “I saw all the old people and the new people — it was a delightful experience.”
Bittman jokes that his oldest daughter, Sergeant, “made him” retire 7 years ago so that he could provide full-time care to his wife, Barbara, who was battling cancer. He said he cherishes the time he was able to share with Barbara and feels confident the business is in good hands with Sergeant in charge.
“She improved Behavior Associates and has been very successful running it,” Bittman said. “She does hands-on direct service also, in addition to running the business. She relates to other people easily and they find it easy to relate to her. She’s a people person and that’s what you have to be to help people.”
Behavior Associates, LLC currently provides services at 3445 Wathen’s Crossing and continues to serve clients in Henderson, Bowling Green, Benton, Madisonville, Dawson Springs, and Princeton. Sergeant, who is a licensed psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D), has a staff consisting of additional BCBAs and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT). Although she said the types of treatment have changed over the years, she is still grateful for her father’s influence and direction.
“He was a great boss and I learned a lot from him — I still look at it as his business in a lot of ways,” Sergeant said. “There are a lot of things that have changed and I have worked extremely hard over the last seven years to keep it running.”
According to Sergeant, one of the many changes is the ever-growing need for behavior support services for children with autism. Behavior Associates now offers in-clinic services for clients with autism, in addition to making in-home and facility visits.
“The kids that are getting services are getting excellent services,” Sergeant said. “We have a huge waitlist and we need more staff to meet the need.”
The original company Bittman founded offered behavior intervention services to clients and families, along with some traditional counseling through private contracts with local institutions, and eventually Wendell Foster. Bittman believed that every aspect of the treatment process should be aimed at improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.
“There weren’t very many psychologists or other mental health professionals that were experienced at working with people with developmental disabilities when I started that business,” Bittman said. “When you get connected to a family, the child is not the only ‘patient.’ You have to teach the parent how to work with their own child to be happy and successful. You really are treating the child and the whole family.”
Although Bittman’s parents greatly emphasized the value of education, his path to becoming a psychologist was a bit unconventional. Originally from the Bronx, Bittman finished high school in Miami, Florida, before attending college at the University of Florida, and eventually joining the Marine Corps.
“My time in the Marines really changed me and made me much more responsible and mature,” Bittman said, adding that he struggled with heroin addiction before enlisting. “When I got out of the Marines I had my head on straight and did OK.”
After completing both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Bittman earned his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Texas Tech University and moved to Owensboro in 1972. He worked for Green River Comprehensive Care Center for 20 years and eventually worked his way up to Clinical Care Center Director.
“In 1992, I decided I wanted to go out on my own, and I was successful,” Bittman said. “It was an easy transition — there was very little that changed from doing it individually to through the company. Now it is much more complicated, but Maggie is smart enough to figure out what needs to be done.”
Sergeant, a former elementary school teacher, said she has always had “a knack” for working with children that struggled with different behaviors, so it seemed natural to follow in her father’s footsteps in psychology, as well as with the business.
“I’m not sure if it’s nature or nurture, but it’s not something you can teach,” Sergeant said. “For my dad, it’s something that gives him a great sense of pride, especially because I’m running it. It feels like he’s left me with his legacy.”