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Empowering Adults with Developmental Disabilities to Live Independently

By Taylor Mabrey, Content Manager

In the United States, around 17% of children aged three through 17 have one or more developmental disabilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.

An individual with an intellectual or developmental disability might struggle with life skills such as personal care, communication, learning, decision-making and being self-sufficient. When someone isn’t able to successfully do these things on their own, it is hard for them to get or keep a job and it hinders their ability to live independently.

Organizations like Union Diversified Industries were created to support individuals that face those challenges. Founded in 1970, Union Diversified Industries (UDI) enhances the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. By providing vocational services as well as life skills training, community integration programs and creative arts and activities courses, UDI helps each individual they serve become active contributors in their homes and communities.

UDI is a part of United Way of Greater Charlotte’s regional investment in Union County, which has a tailored strategy focused on serving residents through housing stability, food security, healthcare access, childhood literacy and mentoring programs with a special focus on supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Another way that UDI enhances the lives of adults with developmental disabilities is through The Susan Moenter Center for Independence, which operates with the help of United Way funding. 

Named for a past client that received services from UDI for 19 years before she lived independently, The Susan Moenter Center for Independence is a fully furnished and functional apartment that doubles as a classroom where clients participate in Life Long Learning, UDI’s life skills training course.

“Susan was here with us for 19 years. During her time here, she gained more and more independence through the skills that we teach,” Chief Executive Officer David Casper said, “she was able to live outside of her family home for the first time because she was working and learning here.” 

In Life Long Learning, class topics vary from food preparation to kitchen safety to cleaning the bathroom to doing a load of laundry to making the bed and so on. Class sizes are kept to groups of 10, which allows each client to participate and learn interactively. When the class instructor teaches a skill, the group has the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.

“We teach everything because if someone is going to gain independence – if they’re going to gain meaningful employment – they have to have these skills. Think about everything that goes into getting ready for a day at work. And then preparing to do it again,” Casper said. 

“What did you do last night? You potentially packed your lunch, put it in the refrigerator, laid out your clothes and maybe made sure to wash and dry your laundry. There’s so much that goes into everyday life, and we want to ensure our clients are learning all aspects.” 

Gaining life skills and achieving independence is not a one-size-fits-all journey; once a client starts at UDI, they are supported for as long as they need. Some clients start at UDI and only stay for a year, while other clients have been there for the past 30 years. 

UDI currently provides vocational services and enrichment programs to around 100 individual clients each day, but Casper and his staff aim to increase that number to 150 by the end of the year.

Learn more about United Way’s efforts in Union County.