SANDPOINT — After 45 years at the same location on North Boyer Avenue, the Panhandle Special Needs building is old and crumbling.
Some might call it an eyesore. Patchwork, piecemeal and jerry-rigging efforts to keep the programs going are no longer feasible because the building is too small for the services provided for the 150-plus developmentally disabled individuals PSNI serves each year.
“We have painted, expanded, remodeled, rearranged, redesigned, refashioned and finally have just outgrown our space,” Trinity Nicholson, executive director of PSNI wrote in a fundraising letter. “And we always have a waiting list, but we cannot accept more clients when we are so limited on space.”
Fundraising efforts for land and a new building have kicked off with a $48,685 donation from the late Tom Kelsey Jr., whose son participated in the programs before his sudden death from natural causes.
“We have a fundraising goal of $1 million,” Nicholson said.
PSNI’s executive director knows what a quality facility looks like because she is the president of what appears to be a misspelled acronym, but isn’t — ACCSES Idaho — an organization representing 10 of Idaho’s 501(C)(3) nonprofit community rehabilitation programs for the developmentally disabled population.
She has toured all the facilities around the state that house programs similar to PSNI’s, and what she has discovered is relatively simple. She said the towns and cities that have optimal, respectable facilities designed for the DD population are the ones where the communities got behind them. Some bought old schools and had large endowments, she said, adding that each of the PSNI-compatible programs are funded by Medicaid, “and we all get the same amount,” she said.
Land upon which the PSNI buildings sit is owned by the city of Sandpoint; PSNI pays the city $500 per month. PSNI owns the greenhouse and the building, but pays $900 rent per month for The Cottage building, a thrift store staffed by 30 some volunteers. The Cottage helps the clients by providing employment-training opportunities. Clients at PSNI process the donations and perform daily cleaning duties there.
But donations of housewares to The Cottage have not been the community’s priority, and PSNI cannot always pay its bills. When people donate money, she said, it’s for a particular project or for something special, “but we need money to pay the regular bills.”
Other bills include insurances, licenses, and payroll. It is nearly impossible to keep quality employees, Nicholson said, because staff turnover is so high.
“Our rate for degreed individuals has been $13 per hour since 2006; we cannot offer any benefits. These people are providing care for a vulnerable population and need adequate hourly wages for the services they provide. Rehab techs earn $9 per hour,” she said. “Not enough to make a living.”
The PSNI dream is to remain near Sandpoint’s Super 1 Foods, preferably just behind the food store, because some of the clients earn privileges to walk there supervised, and a few walk there on their own because they have learned the safety rules.
“We have severely disabled individuals and we need a washer and dryer we can rely on,” Nicholson said.
Plumbing is under the concrete and when the washer backs up, as it does regularly, it’s expensive to have the concrete dug up, she said.
“We would like to have bathrooms with stalls that are made for people in wheelchairs and who use walkers,” she said, adding that, presently, the logistical problems of using the bathroom is challenging for some of the clients.
Panhandle Special Needs is fortunate, she said, to have Lignetics because it provides contract work opportunities for clients who are able to package the company’s fire starter, she said.
Community members need to remember that PSNI provides respite care for families with disabled members by caring for them while the parents are working. “Our programs allow people to keep their jobs,” Nicholson said.
PSNI offers many programs at the site and off the site.
“We have 45 individuals working in the community,” she said.
PSNI’s employment services staff works to train the participants with the skills they need for successful employment and then work with an employer to develop a plan for the maintenance of successful employment.
Then there is the life skills training for adults with disabilities in the areas of budgeting, shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and more.
“It helps hundreds of disabled individuals live successfully in their own apartments,” Nicholson said, adding that the greenhouse does not make a profit, but it is a vehicle to provide employment training to clients.
The building in back of the half-painted blue cinder-block structure is for adult day services. Staff there help the most significantly disabled aging clients with recreational and social opportunities; sometimes the aging clients need to rest and there are places for that, Nicholson said, but still, “we have maxed out our footprint here,” she said.
Nicholson invites community members to tour the facility and to see what is occurring in the different buildings.
For those who would like to tour or to join the fundraising team, contact Nicholson at 208-263-7022 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Drinkard can be reached at email@example.com.