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West Orange Times & Observer Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 2 years ago

West Orange Healthcare District grants will bolster health care efforts

The district awarded $700,000 in grants to four organizations to improve local health care
by: Brittany Gaines Reporter

WINTER GARDEN Every night before bed, Corina Rase would lock both locks on her bedroom door. She hated doing it but had no choice. 

She was vulnerable when she slept, she said, and there was no telling when her son, Richard, might have one of his fits. Diagnosed with autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Richard often resorted to hitting others when he became agitated or angry.

“I felt like a prisoner in my own home because of his behavior problems,” Rase said.

The Rases’ case is just one of the reasons why the West Orange Healthcare District works to extend a helping hand to the local health care community to make West Orange a healthier place to live. 

This fall, the district awarded a total of more than $700,000 in grants to four local nonprofit organizations - Attain, Inc., Quest, Inc., Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and the Orlando Health Foundation.

For people like Rase and Richard, these grants can make all the difference in the world.

Before finding Attain, Inc., life for Rase revolved around keeping Richard calm. She would sneak out of the house after Richard went to bed at night to run errands, because bringing Richard often meant dealing with his behavior in the middle of the store.

“I was just trying to keep him stable,” Rase said. “I worked around him. I didn’t have any social life. It was just working with him to keep him safe and myself safe.”

Then in 2006, Richard was accepted into a group home run by Attain, Inc. It changed everything for both Richard and Rase.

“They know how to deal with him,” Rase said. “He’s getting the help and support he needs. I’ve seen a lot of progress made in his bad behaviors.”

Every Friday, Rase picks up Richard for their weekly mother-son date. They go to the movies. They go to Target or Best Buy to pick out a new CD for Richard.

And he almost never has a fit.

But without Attain’s help ten years ago, Rase doesn’t know how she ever would have managed.

“Attain has been, for me, a lifesaver,” she said. “He’s in a safe home environment. I can see him, and I don’t have to travel far. I’m very thankful.”

But within the West Orange community, there’s a shortage of housing for people with developmental disabilities, said Dr. Craig Cook, executive director with Attain, Inc.

“It’s meant to be a home environment that has some supports within it for vulnerable individuals,” he said about their housing program. “A lot of families who have loved ones with special needs are struggling right now because the lack of housing.”

In order to fill in this need, the $250,000 grant Attain Inc. received from the West Orange Healthcare District will be used to build more housing for special-needs individuals.

With two special-needs children - Mark and Kaitlin, both diagnosed with autism and microcephaly - Helen Hardzewicz can vouch for the value of the nonprofit’s housing program.

“They have helped them continue to lead the most independent life,” she said.

Hardzewicz also said Attain’s programs allow parents peace of mind about the future of their special-needs children.

“They help them adapt to society and retrain their behaviors,” she said. “The services are vital to families that don’t have the knowledge or ability to help them in the home. The programs are wonderful for them to not only have a life of their own, but for their caregivers to know that when they pass from this world, their children have a life and friends and are as safe as they can hope to be.”

This mission of helping others is a common theme across all four nonprofit organizations that were awarded grants.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida received a grant of $267,154, which will be used to create healthy meals.

“When you start thinking about hunger and the impact it has in Orange County, as many as one in six people (are affected),” said Greg Higgerson, vice president of development with the bank. “When you have less money at the grocery store, the healthy nutritious food tends to cost a bit more. It’s not going to be part of their day-to-day.”

In addition to providing healthy foods at their pantries, the nonprofit will also use the grant funds to implement health screenings for anyone who comes to their food pantries.

“It’s all about closing the gap on hunger,” Higgerson said. “It takes a lot of people working together.”

Quest Inc. received a grant of $113,900 from the West Orange Healthcare District which will be used to provide services and therapies to developmentally delayed children. 

The Orlando Health Foundation will use their $77,312 grant to further their mission of empowering community leaders to take charge of their health and the health of their community.

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