With a new, expansive headquarters and national recognition that continues to grow, Puzzle Pieces has evolved over the years to become one of Owensboro’s most important assets.
Puzzle Pieces’ mission is to provide a safe environment for individuals with intellectual disabilities and promote independence, life skills, community access and involvement, social interaction, communication, self-worth and build trusting relationships between clients, staff, and families.
Executive Director and founder Amanda Owen said bringing all of the Puzzle Pieces locations together under one roof and launching the Owen Autism Center helped bridge any and all gaps that existed in the program previously.
“That’s when it allowed us to expand and work more efficiently,” Owen said. “I said, ‘Let’s build your Disney.’ The board rallied together and made it happen. Everything about us has enhanced.”
Located at 2401 New Hartford Road, Puzzle Pieces now incorporates a movie theatre, multiple calming rooms, space to work out and exercise, rooms focused on education and life skills, residential living and the long-awaited Owen Autism Center.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, affected Puzzle Pieces the same way it did other businesses and nonprofits by forcing the organization to close down many of its programs to the public.
Owen said the last year was one of the most trying times for not only herself but also the lives of those who have relied on Puzzle Pieces for so many years. She was forced to lay off most of her staff and fielded questions on a daily basis from clients who struggled to get by without the resources Puzzle Pieces provided them.
“I felt the weight,” Owen said. “It affected our families. I almost went into a very bad place, emotionally. It was the first time I felt like my dream was pulled away from me.”
However, Owen didn’t let the closures keep her down for too long. She took the opportunity to re-focus her energy on the things she could control, saying the closure gave her a chance to “step back” and take a look at everything from a different perspective.
“You get lost in the weeds sometimes,” Owen said. “I had an opportunity to redesign and build a different culture. It was a new start.”
In spite of the pandemic, the Owen Autism Center was still able to be opened and the team at Puzzle Pieces has been able to help families through the ins and outs of navigating Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI). In July, the facility was also able to reopen its doors, and Owen said Puzzle Pieces is operating at roughly 75% capacity right now.
“Right now, we’ve been ‘boots on the ground.’ Our goal has been enriching our program,” she said. “The next step: growth. I want [to create] an inclusive early learning program and a college advisory program. I want more creative fundraisers — the type that I’d want to attend — like our annual Lip Sync Battle.”
Even with all those ideas running through her head, Owen still has more dreams she’d like to see come to fruition. In the near future, Owen said she’d like to begin a program focused on female leadership and to continue building upon her “Pieces of Me” podcast for Puzzle Pieces.
With Owen scheduled to speak with a reporter from New York after her Owensboro Times interview, she reflected on how far her facility had come, and how much further she wanted to take it.
“Puzzle Pieces is getting recognized more and more nationally,” she said. “I think COVID made me realize the benefit we had on the community because everything had to come to a stop. I want to share our success with others in the hope that other people in other places might create their own version of Puzzle Pieces, because it is so, so important.”
The Chamber Member of the Week program is a membership benefit of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce. Founded in 1913, the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce has worked for over a century to provide valuable benefits and services to member businesses and individuals.
Today, with a membership base of nearly 1,000, the Chamber is a guiding force in community and business development initiatives, serving as the center of business advocacy for the Greater Owensboro region.
To learn more about becoming the Chamber Member of the Week or to inquire about Chamber membership, contact Shelly Nichols, Chamber Vice President, at 270-926-1860 or email@example.com.