Their voices are not always heard, their struggles often overlooked.
People living with disabilities are presented with their own unique struggles daily, but in Tangipahoa Parish they need only turn to OPTIONS, which is located in Hammond, for a safe haven and a full-time advocate.
OPTIONS serves approximately 170 individuals with disabilities, ranging in ages from 18 into the 80s, according to director Casey Rudolph. She said the majority of the people they serve are from Tangipahoa Parish but the agency also serves individuals from St. Tammany and Livingston parishes.
The organization does receive some state funding but not enough to cover its operational budget, Rudolph said, so fundraisers are crucial to its existence.
Those fundraisers include the inaugural Claws for a Cause, which was scheduled for Friday in Hammond. The drive-thru event, hosted by Tangipahoa Parish Council members Kim Coates and Brigette Hyde and sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood Association, offered a dinner of two pounds of crawfish, corn and potatoes for $20.
Miller’s Mart in Hammond was set to boil the crustacean delicacies.
“(OPTIONS) is a huge benefit for the community, to have a place like this, and we want to give back and support them,” Coates said. “They can use (proceeds) for one of their activities or crafts. It will help cover the cost for the people that come in and use the facility.”
Rudolph said OPTIONS has four community homes, two located near Southeastern Louisiana University, one by the OPTIONS campus near the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport and the other off the Pumpkin Center exit of Interstate 12. Additionally, OPTIONS provides independent living homes where many services, including medical, are provided.
Rudolph said the activities offered at OPTIONS are geared toward the interest of each individual. For example, the weaving studio provides employment for people with disabilities.
Those individuals are independent artists who can sell their works at a local farmers market, online or at Fabulous Finds, a downtown Ponchatoula shop operated by the organization.
Three people with disabilities participate in the learning garden program, which also serves others with disabilities.
Rudolph said the organization offers opportunities for people to go out into the community, whether that is visiting the library or an arts center or having lunch.
Coates said the organization also helps secure employment for individuals at local establishments such as restaurants, lumber yards or grocery stores.
She said one OPTIONS participant has been a longtime employee at First Guaranty Bank in Hammond.
But the residents must be shuttled, presenting transportation costs that are not eligible for state funding.
“We have a full transportation program that runs around the parish, all day every day, getting everyone where they need to go, whether that be work, a fun activity, grocery or a doctor’s appointment,” she said. “None of our participants drive so it’s really critical we provide that service. Transportation is one of our greatest needs.”
She said OPTIONS also has three full-time nurses on staff, which is not required but allows the organization to “provide medical advocacy for the people that we serve so they have the best quality of life overall.”
However, that service is also not eligible for state funding.
“We are trying to fundraise and spread awareness year-round,” she said. “We have a responsibility to serve these folks year-round, and things like (Claws for a Cause) help us to make sure they are well cared for and can work in the community.”
The other major fundraiser is Balling 4 OPTIONS, a basketball event in September.
Coates said what most impressed her about OPTIONS was a storm-safe building constructed shortly after Hurricane Katrina. She said the house also includes a generator.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, 80 participants of the program stayed in the house for 17 days and were provided with food, water and a full-time nurse.
“Some of their community homes had damage,” Coates said. “It’s a safe place for these people to go. Some, if they went to a public shelter, would be out of their environment and out of their safety surrounding. Here, they know where they are going, they are safe, they know people there, they are comfortable there, and it’s not a total shift. That, to me, is huge.”
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