Puzzle Pieces announced Tuesday it will combine all of its divisions under one roof at a new location and under one name — Puzzle Pieces Campus. The facility will also be home to the campus’ newest division, the Owen Autism Center, named after Puzzle Pieces Executive Director Amanda Owen.
Puzzle Pieces Campus will relocate to the former 27,000-square-foot Daymar Colleges Group building at 2401 New Hartford Road in early November. According to Owen, the decision to move was both to consolidate all programs into one facility, but also to provide more space for a growing client base.
The nonprofit, which provides a day program for individuals with intellectual disabilities, was at a $284,000 operating budget when it launched seven years ago. Puzzle Pieces now operates with a $3 million budget, serving 138 active clients on a weekly basis with 67 full- and part-time employees. Owen said she was able to increase clients by 26 in 2018, but there are still 32 people on the waiting list across all services.
It is her hope that the new facility will allow Puzzle Pieces Campus to increase clientele by 46.
“It is difficult for us to calculate or project client numbers because our clients don’t age out,” Owen said. “We are supporting someone their entire life.”
The New Hartford Road campus sits on 4.5 acres with ample green space for programming or future expansion if needed. Owen said her nine-member board was strategic in deciding the location of the new facility.
“This move also allows us to get all our services at Puzzle Pieces on to one campus,” said Board Chair Amy Jackson. “It creates capacity and efficiencies for us to continue to grow and connect more clients to our mission.”
Calling the move perfect timing after a recent rebrand of Puzzle Pieces, Owen said it was also the right time to unveil plans for the Owen Autism Center, which will provide inclusive day care for individuals with autism from the ages of 18 months through whole life. Launching in spring 2020, the center will offer early intervention services and after school and summer programming.
“This will replenish a need that has been established, but is now not being met,” she said.
The Wendell Foster Autism Program discontinued its program in May, leaving many local parents without summer and after school care for their children.
Owen said Puzzle Pieces gets one to two calls a week from parents whose children just received an autism diagnosis. Three of her former Puzzle Pieces staff members had to quit their jobs because their children with autism were not accepted at daycares. But Owen said when her best friend’s son was diagnosed with autism and she couldn’t offer help, it was a wake up call.
“I want to be able to provide all of these parents with hope,” she said.
The Owen Autism Center will be an inclusive program, opening its doors to siblings of children with autism.
“I know how my own children have been affected by being about people with special needs,” she said.
Owen has already laid the groundwork for field work collaborations with Kentucky Wesleyan College, Brescia University and Owensboro Community & Technical College, giving future professionals the experience they need at the college level. She has also created a college advisory program to promote people with disabilities going to college.
“I want to give parents of children with disabilities the peace of mind that their child can go to college too,” she said.
Beyond the Owen Autism Center, the new Puzzle Pieces Campus will house a social-community program (the services formerly offered at the Puzzle Pieces Frederica Street location), adult vocational training (services offered at the former Center Piece location) and Employment Opportunities (services placing those with intellectual disabilities with local jobs).
While these services will be offered through the Michelle P. Waiver system, they will also be available through private pay.
“I wanted to create support that parents didn’t have to have the ‘golden ticket,’” Owen said of the Michelle P. Waiver system, which she says is in a state of crisis with a 10 to 15 year waiting list.
Calling this her “owe back” to the community, Owen said the Puzzle Pieces Campus will contribute to the local workforce in multiple ways.
“We are going to add 20 to 30 jobs at this new facility,” she said. “We are also allowing parents to go back to work by providing care for their children and we are preparing individuals with disabilities for jobs.”
With the announcement of the new campus, Owen also unveiled a capital campaign in which she is asking the community to help raise $200,000.
“Every dollar of that will go to programming for clients,” she said. “Puzzle Pieces will match that $200,000 to cover operating expenses. We have worked really hard to pinch every penny and be good stewards of our money.”
The current Puzzle Pieces building at 1512 Frederica St. and the Center Piece property, a day training site for adults with intellectual disabilities located at 5010 Back Square Drive, have both been sold.
“The buildings served us well and provided us with the foundation to grow in a way with the community needs,” she said. “The sale of the facilities will allow us to expand and invest in the new facility while expanding our programming.”
Sept. 4 marks seven years since Owen opened Puzzle Pieces after leaving a career in special education to follow her dream. She said sometime along the way she was told by a mentor “to find your Walt Disney.”
“I think this is Disney,” she said of Tuesday’s announcement.