Like many other similar small agencies working with intellectually and developmentally disabled adults, Open Hearts Open Arms was founded by the parents of an intellectually disabled adult child who were concerned about the limited number of organizations in Blount County that were providing the level of services their son needed. After trying three agencies, only one located in the county, they became so disgusted with the lack of quality services that they thought about starting their own agency. How hard could that be?
On July 16, 2016, the agency was chartered by the State of Tennessee as a non-profit corporation, and in the fall, we attended our first meeting with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) to determine how we could be a licensed provider. Three agonizing years later, we finally managed to jump through all of the hoops to become licensed to provide services. During that time, we were able to obtain 501(c)(3) status as an IRS tax exempt agency, which we learned as we were getting our approvals from DIDD was essential to obtaining grants and other funding. In January 2020, we were licensed, had been donated a house and property which we renovated through donations, and were ready to serve our first clients. You know the next part. COVID hit, and DIDD (our source for clients) shut down, but we managed to crawl through 2020 providing services to our son, but then in 2021 we were able to take on two more adult male clients and we were finally able to pay the bills and begin to provide services as we had dreamed of doing in 2016.
Since starting the agency, the number of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which includes the Autism Spectrum, mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, traumatic brain injury among many others, has dramatically increased, probably because of better diagnostic techniques, but also because of an increase in drug addiction and the misuse of prescription drugs as well as the COVID pandemic. This increase means that a growing number of persons with resulting disabilities require an increase in adult support services. Without these supports, many, especially younger adults with these disabilities, will remain unemployed or underemployed, have little opportunity to develop social networks, and not be able to contribute to their communities, even though many are fully capable of doing so. To address this, we currently offer supported living and in-home long-term support services (LTSS) and personal assistance services for caregivers, recreation programs, community services that assure those persons we support are included in community activities, and Employment and Community First (ECF) – supported employment, and we are in the process of opening two more houses in Maryville this year, and possibly more if we can find the houses. The demand is here, more than we could ever serve, but we are going to try.
As the mom of an intellectually disabled son, Nikki Goodwin has spent a lifetime advocating for services for intellectually and developmentally disabled men, women and children, and has been associated with this area of service for over twenty years. During this time, she worked in accounting for Clayton Homes rising to positions of authority while at the same time establishing a close association with the provider industry, serving in supervisory positions in a local provider agency. On top of this, she and her husband started a successful used car business in Maryville and she served as one of the first Board Members for Open Hearts Open Arms (OHOA) when it was created in July 2016, and has maintained a close relationship with Rich and Wanda Ellis, the founders of OHOA, throughout these years as they developed it into a functioning agency. So, when it came time to appoint an Executive Director, a single meeting was all it took to bring her on board. Nikki’s warmth and humanity will take the agency to new heights of service in the future.
Copyright © 2022 Open Hearts Open Arms - All Rights Reserved.