Looking for a unique Christmas gift this holiday season? Shop at the Wings gift shop, 13700 N Eastern Avenue in Edmond, to buy one-of-a kind items hand made by artists at this special needs community center. You’ll be supporting a wonderful cause while making the difference in the lives of many. How? Read on.
As parents, we all dream of our children’s long-term happiness. We want the peace of knowing that they’ll be confident, contributing members of society—to know that they can fly on their own even before we have passed on. For parents of children with special needs, having that peace can be more challenging. But Gary and Shouna Olson of Edmond, parents of a son with Down Syndrome, have teamed with other local parents to provide a solution for metro-area families. This solution is a community where special needs adults can live, learn and grow independently.
After a nationwide search, these families found the model they were looking for in Brookshire, Texas, just outside of Houston, Shouna Olson explains. Brookwood Community has all that the Olsons had envisioned for their son, Preston, now 24: a safe, residential community that addressed the vocational, social and residential needs of functional special needs adults. They set a goal to develop such a community in the Oklahoma City metro area for their kids and others.
In 2002, a non-profit organization, Special Needs Adult Communities, Inc., doing business as Wings, was created and a master plan eventually developed with a mission to “provide a Christ-centered community where adults with special needs can live and thrive.” The name, Wings “gives a picture of freedom or soaring,” said Olson, which embodies the independence that all parents want for their kids. And that’s a part of the group’s stated vision, “to provide a community where individuals can reach the full potential of all God created them to be.”
As of October 1, Wings began operating its day program in south Edmond (at the former Seller’s Event Center at Boulevard and Memorial). Through this program, students learn vocational skills and receive social interaction so important to their long-term road to independence, said Olson.
An example of vocational skill development provided at the center is the work participants do several days a week in the art studio. With the help of staff and volunteers, participants are learning to create items that are sold in the gift shop including wall art, pottery and greeting cards. “I like making the ornaments,” says James Price, a 22-year old participant.
As James carefully paints glaze onto un-fired ceramic Christmas ornaments, his mother, Margo, explains that the organization is also currently raising money to purchase their own firing kiln. “Right now, we are taking the pottery to another location.” Having their own kiln will keep all of the production in house and give the students another learning opportunity, Margo explained. Proceeds from items sold at the gift shop benefit the program.
Some of Wings’ participants work off-site and participate in the organization’s social activities. For example, Rachel Fielder, 29, likes to attend the quarterly, “Saturday Night Life” dances or go to movie nights. The social events give the participants a vehicle in which to interact and learn vital social skills, says her mother, Marianna Fielder.
According to Olson, the ultimate goal is to build a complete residential community that will meet the spiritual, vocational, social, safety and residential needs of the students. While leasing their current location, plans are to build a permanent facility on property owned by the organization.
A 2006 feasibility study led the board of directors to initiate a $7 million fundraising campaign to begin building the community. These funds will be raised totally through private donations and fundraising events, with no government funding.
Wings is well on its way to getting the dream of a special needs community off the ground. The impressive master plans show a developed community complete with a town center, chapel, residential homes, green-belt areas and other community structures. This holiday season, pay a visit to Wings and find out how you can help this worthwhile group soar.
For information about tours, volunteering or events, call Wynter Olson-Casalles at 405-242-4646 or visit www.wingsok.org.
Karen Mitchell, a lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, lives in Edmond with her husband Mark, teenage son, Ryan, and one spoiled Welsh corgi. Daughter