Ability Connection: Nonprofit to open new facility to enrich the lives of people living with disabilities

Story by Whitney Carter. Photos provided by Ability Connection.

The mission of Ability Connection has been clear for the last 70 years of its existence in North Texas: enriching the lives of people living with disabilities, one person at a time. That mission to help some of the most vulnerable in our communities will not change, but the building they do that work in, will.

The organization has relocated to a 30,000-square-foot space in Las Colinas. They will officially cut the ribbon in September.

“We were so excited to move to our new space in May. We simply outgrew our old space, and our new location in Las Colinas has 8,000 more square feet,” Jim Hanophy, Ability Connection CEO, says. “We designed the space for maximum flexibility for use by our members. In addition to five large classrooms, we have a large multipurpose room, a sensory room, a computer lab, and a fulfillment room for contract and volunteer work.”

He said the larger space will help them serve more people living with disabilities in search of the daily services they offer. He added the expanded space will give the nonprofit more footing to meet its core values every day as they have been doing for decades: compassion, respect, and results.

“[That’s what] drives us to provide world-class services for our members and their families, with an individualized focus on each person’s ability and the belief in [everyone’s] potential. We operate three Medicaid Waiver programs. Our case managers and program coordinators make sure that our members get the support, therapies, medical care, and supplies they need to live successfully in the community,” Jim says.

It’s all made possible through a highly skilled team that Jim says continues to adapt to learning modules to engage the members in ways they can get the most from each activity or exercise.

“Our instructors consistently seek opportunities for their own professional growth and to ‘sharpen the saw’ with their instructional skill sets. Many of the members we serve were unsuccessful or unable to be served in other programs,” he explains.
While that work is happening at the facility, they also operate eight group homes serving 38 people.

“Our group homes provide a family environment with ongoing opportunities for members to work on goals, engage in activities in the home, and participate in community life. Many members need quite a bit of personal care, and each member is treated with dignity and respect and is encouraged to make daily choices,” Jim says.

They also tailor programs for young people at their headquarters providing summer camps, afterschool programs, and one-day training for young people called C.O.R.E (Communication, Organization, Responsibility, Empathy).

Jim says that they have built off their success last summer and have taken a two-part approach to reaching youth with disabilities this summer.

“Our summer camp has evolved into serving children with more significant disabilities since we were getting requests from families who were unable to find a camp that could adequately serve their children. We decided to serve fewer children with more substantial needs.”

Jim elaborates that these youngsters need more assistance with self-regulation, socialization, and communication. They are staffed by special education teachers, an occupational therapist, and a speech and language therapist.

“Unlike most camps where the child is molded into the camp, we mold the camp to the child. Each family chooses three goals on which we will focus for the duration of the camp,” he says.

The C.O.R.E. skills camp started last summer to reach young people living with disabilities in Dallas County who could not commit to a full day of camp or maybe they couldn’t reach out to Ability Connection, for whatever reason. He added the feedback they have been getting from families who are participating has been exceptionally positive.

As far as the bottom line, Jim says most of the members they serve in the training center and in the residential services are paid for in various ways.

“[They are] funded through either the Home and Community Services (HCS) or the Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS) Medicaid Waiver Services,” Jim says. “We do accept private pay for our training centers and group homes (if space is available).”

The training center fee is $35 a day, and the group home is $5,000 per month. The Youth Service programs are funded through a generous grant from Crystal Charity Ball, to serve youth in Dallas County. Services are offered on a sliding scale based on Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Their work is not just confined to the building. They have also partnered with It’s A Sensory World in Farmers Branch, offering education, therapy, a sensory gym and so much more.

“We have partnered with them this summer to pilot The Sensory Bus. The Sensory Bus is a sensory gym on wheels that can meet communities/individuals in need, where they are. Our goal is to provide sensory integration services in our local, underserved communities via sensory breaks and sensory circuits – and promote inclusion at various public events that can be overstimulating for individuals with neurodiversity,” Jim says.

There will be a ribbon cutting and official grand opening of their new facility in Las Colinas on Thursday, September 7.

If you would like to learn more, donate, or volunteer you can do so on the Ability Connection website.