The main room at the Oklahoma Foundation for the Disabled is buzzing with Halloween preparation.
One staffer has a hot glue gun, making masks for the foundation's clients who watch patiently. Another chats with them about their costume plans. There is excitement in the air as the annual Halloween party nears.
The Oklahoma Foundation for the Disabled was founded 52 years ago and serves clients in central Oklahoma who are developmentally disabled. Open Monday through Friday, it bills itself as an adult day care center, but that doesn't account for all that happens within its walls.
“The amazing thing is when they come here they learn so much,” foundation Director Georgia Devening said. “It's incredible to watch what they get out of being around other people who are just like them. If they weren't here, many would be just sitting at home watching TV.”
Clients must be over 18 but there is one who is in his mid-70s and another has been coming to the foundation for 42 years. Currently 106 are enrolled.
Their days are structured as much as possible. Depending on ability, clients are tutored in basic math and spelling, and life skills, such as understanding how money works.
There's also an effort to make sure they experience mainstream culture. There are bowling trips Mondays, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays a dance instructor visits. There are trips to Walmart. Thursday is usually movie day at a local theater. The foundation's fleet of 11 buses and vans is constantly on the road. Once a year, clients travel to Branson, Mo., for a weekend.
“We want to give them a life and we want to get them out into the community,” Devening said. “The social activity is the most important thing to them.”
Devening knows the benefits. Her brother, Gary Owen, 59, was born with Down syndrome. He began coming to the foundation 14 years ago, well before she took on an administrative role.
“He's not even the same person he was when he first started coming here,” she said. “He's so confident now. This is his place.”
Some clients come with basic skills, but adding to them in a slower-paced environment has its benefits. Program director Leone Stepney said they are eager to learn.
“Many of our clients did attend school and they did graduate but there is a lot they didn't learn,” Stepney said. “In this setting they learn well. They're with their peers and we don't rush them through anything.”
The reward for Stepney is seeing the results of their work, when something clicks and a new skill is mastered. Those are the moments that keep her coming back.