Developmental & Disability Services of Lebanon Valley (DDS) can trace its origins back to 1961 when it was founded as the United Cerebral Palsy of Lebanon County.
“Children with disabilities weren’t getting the services that they needed,” Jessica Penchard, the vice president of public relations and development for DDS explained. “A therapist would come down from Harrisburg once a month.”
As a result, the first developmental classroom in Lebanon was formed in St. James Lutheran Church. The classroom initially served six to eight students of a wide range of ages and disabilities, After a number of site location changes, DDS initiated a building campaign in the 1990s to construct the DDS Alley Learning Center located at 1126 Walnut Street in Lebanon. From that first classroom, the service grew to 45 students in a preschool setting that included special education, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. Due to a lack in funding, the organization had to shut down its developmental classroom in 2012.
DDS continues to provide education and therapy to infants and toddlers in the child’s home or natural environment. The organization serves approximately 55 infants and toddlers every month. Therapists and special education instructors visit the homes of their clients and provide services while simultaneously offering a coaching model to help parents and caregivers work with their children’s needs.
DDS expanded its services to include more services for adults. The organization currently has 45-50 clients enrolled in its job coaching program. Job coaches work one-on-one with clients and help them find and maintain employment in the local community. By being gainfully employed, consumers are afforded the opportunity to achieve other goals, such as buying a house, living on their own and getting married.
In 2012, DDS expanded its adult services to include Habilitation and Companion Services which provide further training for individuals in addition to providing non-medical and socialization support for clients. DDS can aid individuals in performing grocery shopping, planning a budget, household chores, or providing volunteer service in the community. In a year’s time, Penchard said that DDS serves approximately 450 individuals and their respective family members through their various services.
In addition to these primary services, DDS also offers a number of recreational programs and activities for both its clients and the public. The Brave Art Studio is held twice a month and allows participants to create art projects. The Hip Hop Cardio Class is a dance party which is held every Monday night at 6:30 p.m. Currently in the works is a recreational agriculture program which DDS is developing in partnership with OnFire Youth Ministry located in Myerstown.
Young men and women 16 and older are invited to join the Venture Crew, offered through the Boy Scouts of America. A lego club is also being developed for local teens. The Summer Stars Day Camp is a camp for children of all abilities to explore team building activities, field trips, and demonstrations. Though this summer camp is for children and youth of all abilities, precautions are taken to accommodate individuals with disabilities. The camp utilizes a buddy system where the campers partner with a high school or college student or adult volunteer to help them through the various activities. While the core services provided by DDS are free to its clients, the Summer Stars Day Camp and the various recreational programs do have a nominal fee and are open to anyone to participate.
Another service which DDS offers is its Elks Home Service Nurse program. The organization has its own Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). This free service is available to any Pennsylvania resident and is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Elks State Association. Each Pennsylvania county has an Elks Nurse. The nurse for Lebanon also serves Berks County. The nurse works in the community with clients and performs a variety of advocacy functions. The nurse will provide in-home medical case management services, advocate for an individual’s legal and human rights, assess needs to help access equipment, interpret clinical findings and act as a liaison between health care professionals, among other roles.
DDS is a licensed service provider and receives funding through the county and state for many of its services, however, these reimbursements are not enough to cover actual expenses. Therefore DDS relies on other community sources to supplement its income. In addition to being a United Way of Lebanon County agency, DDS hosts four main fundraising events per year to help raise money to support its services.
Every New Year’s Day DDS hosts the Polar Bear Club Plunge where individuals take pledges to “plunge” into the quarry at Willow Springs Park. This past New Year’s marked the 26th year that DDS hosted the Polar Bear Plunge.
On March 7, 2016, DDS will host its annual Heritage Dinner & Art Auction at Trattoria Fratelli located on Lehman Street in Lebanon. During this event, various pieces of art created by some of the clients at DDS are auctioned off. The art is reflective of the broad range of services that DDS provides, so that every piece tells a story. The event features a beer and wine reception, pizza appetizers, bread, salad, and a lasagna entrée.
After the art auction, DDS hosts its DDS Empowerment Auction. This year the spring auction will be held on April 8, 2016, at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. Businesses from throughout the community donate items for the auction, with all proceeds going to DDS.
The last event of the year that the organization hosts is its Beaujolais Nouveau celebration. This traditional European celebration commemorates the release of new Beaujolais Nouveau wines with merriment. DDS has put its own spin on the European tradition. This past year, six different restaurants from the community created dishes to accompany a wine flight. These restaurants included the Porch Restaurant & Pub, Trattoria Fratelli, Gin Mill, The Foundry Craft Grillery, Tony’s Mining Company Restaurant, and the Blue Bird Inn.
Anyone who would like additional information regarding any of the events offered through DDS, the various volunteer opportunities they have available, or the various services they provide can contact their office at 717-274-1304. Information is also available on their website at www.ddslebanon.org.