BY TABATHA RENEGAR
On a gray February afternoon I took a short drive to the north side of town to learn more about Horizons Residential Care Center, a facility for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A close friend has been on the Horizons Board of Directors since 2018 so I had certainly heard of it and thought I understood the good work being done there. Little did I know that my understanding had barely scratched the surface of all that Horizons is!
Located down a country road in Rural Hall, Horizons occupies the historic land and buildings that were once home to Memorial Industrial School, which once served as an orphanage for African-American orphans in the mid to early 1900s.
Compassionate Care for Exceptional People
My time at Horizons was spent in the warm company of its President and CEO, Richard Anderson, and Chair of Horizons Board, Beth Bowman. Before I could even begin to formulate my initial interview questions, Richard’s passion for Horizons mission and work filled the room! A native of Kings Mountain, NC, Richard has been a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. From his Wingate College days of spearheading regional Special Olympics competitions, to his somewhat accidental time as a counselor and program director at Camp Sky Ranch (a summer camp for people with disabilities), Richard’s calling in life seems truly pre-ordained.
Richard’s determination to ensure people live their best life and feel loved extends well beyond the residents of Horizons! “I ask every new staff member who the most important person here is and they all answer, “Our residents” and I say wrong. “YOU are, because without your dedication and care, how would our residents be so well taken care of and loved?!” Richard goes on to say that for every one of the 130+ employee family members, himself included, being at Horizons is a mission, not a job.
This mission is not for the faint of heart! Horizons operates 24/7/365 and has 40 residents who call Horizons home. Horizons’ medically fragile residents, ages 7 to 66, have onsite direct service professionals (caregivers), access to clinical nursing care around the clock, as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
Yet the Horizons employee family extend their care for their beloved residents well beyond the day-to-day basics. To ensure residents have opportunities for self-expression, learning and fun, activities are planned that can range from music to magic shows, art projects and outings to local attractions. It is the goal of everyone at Horizons to create a home-like, family environment where residents experience something that brings them joy each day.
Richard has other, much larger goals in mind, too! Historically, direct service providers (DSPs), which he prefers to call direct service professionals, have been some of the lowest paid employees in health care, often seen as ‘entry level’ positions with very little regard for the difficulty of the position. He is determined to change this mindset and is collaborating with Mt. Eagle College and University and North Forsyth High School to create curriculum that professionalizes the role of the DSP and helps to increase their pay levels.
A second extraordinary goal of the employees and Board is to transform the property from a series of dorm-like buildings into a village! Referring to Osprey Village in South Carolina as a similar model, the idea is to offer residents the opportunity to move from dorm-like living situations into something that feels more like their first apartment. The Osprey Village website tag line sums it up: People. Porches. Potential. Maximizing the freedom and independence of adults with developmental disabilities.
To create a village, it will take a village and Horizons has a dedicated group of people ready to make that happen! April and Sam, two of Horizons’ DSPs have been with the facility for six years and just under two years, respectively. Both express a feeling of honor to work with the residents and both clearly love each and every one and consider them family. Richard describes their work as ‘pure magic’ and when I asked April where the magic comes from, she answered simply “just my heart.”
Just my heart. As a first-time visitor to Horizons, I can attest that the evidence of many giving, loving hearts is all around and it will be these beautiful hearts that will continue to move Horizons forward in their love-based mission to continue enhancing and enriching the lives of their cherished residents for the hope-filled years ahead!