My Possibilities, a Plano-based non-profit is a pioneering leader in vocational education for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) throughout North Texas and building a blueprint that could spark a trend across the nation. My Possibilities is a full day, full year continuing higher education program that gives adults with IDD the opportunity to discover their talents and share them with others. The grass roots organization led by a mom’s fierce desire to provide her son with a path for success after a car accident left him with a traumatic brain injury. Ten years later, My Possibilities Campus for Higher Learning serves 625 individuals each week and is the trailblazer for the creation of similar programs in other states.
When Charmaine Solomon walks the halls of My Possibilities, it is hard to tell who is more excited, the staff and volunteers, the HIPsters (Hugely Important People) or Charmaine herself.
With her contagious smile and laugh, and bright green eyes that reflect her ‘it’s a go we can make anything happen attitude’ you immediately know there is something magical about both Charmaine and My Possibilities.
No one can predict the future, but Charmaine believes as a person of faith ‘that things work out the way they should and eventually everything comes back together.’ A car accident in South Africa 32 years ago that left her infant son, Kyle, with a traumatic brain injury changed her life on impact. She became Kyle’s advocate and wanted to help other parents and fight for the rights of people with special needs. As a human resources recruiter and trainer, Charmaine already had the skills of managing people and identifying skill sets and she went back to school to become a licensed professional counselor.
Her husband’s job with Cadbury moved the family to London and then finally brought them to Plano, Texas in 1999. While Kyle was in school Charmaine worked as counselor at several agencies and in private practice.
“My experience in fighting for Kyle changed my path – it was no longer for me. I fight for the rights of people with special needs and spend most of my time fighting for the underdog,” said Charmaine.
As Kyle’s high school graduation approached, Charmaine began her research on the next phase of Kyle’s journey. She joined forces with other moms going through the same process and sharing the same frustrations with the lack of opportunities for adults with special needs.
The My Possibilities dream was actually sketched out on a napkin at Starbucks. There were three circles drawn that this group of moms believed would not just fill a void in community services, but actually make a difference in the lives of many. They wanted a day program that provided continuing education and social recreation, they needed a work program and eventually they wanted to see a residential program that would give adults with special needs the opportunity to live independently.
Knowing it was more than just this small group of parents, they held three town hall meetings in 2007 to get input from the community. The meetings attracted hundreds of people and their excitement and energy grew. “With this much interest, we knew were on the right track,” said Charmaine.
They raised $200,000 and in 2008 opened the doors to their first facility with 10 students and a volunteer staff. In the fall of that year, they made their first hire – an instructor–Reggie-who is still teaching at My Possibilities, today.
Fast-forward 10 years later, to the opening of the 22-acre My Possibilities campus with 85 employees that now serves 625 HIPsters a week.
“Nothing makes me happier than to stroll through these halls and see the excitement on the faces of the HIPsters as they socialize with each other in the halls, and thrive in their classrooms whether it is in tech lab, the culinary training, art classes, vocational job training or working out in the gym,” said Charmaine. “They all have special abilities and we have created an environment where they can find it.”
Kyle started his first job working at a Hospice Center. “He was so excited and proud to bring home his first paycheck. This is what it is all about he is a young adult – excited about his job, continuing his education and being social with his friends,” said Charmaine. “Our HIPsters are not asking for charity, they just need doors opened for them and a little bit of support so they can be contributing members of our community.”
My Possibilities announced the purchase of 178 acres in Garland, Texas in Oct. which will allow the organization to begin planning a truly inclusive residential community.
“With the guidance and input of our HIPsters, we are constantly looking at how we can improve our programs and expand their opportunities,” said Charmaine. “I truly hope that we are creating a blue print here for facilities and programs like this throughout the country. I believe if we can create a program of this magnitude in Texas, where state funding traditionally lags behind most every other state that it can be done anywhere.”
And with Charmaine’s enthusiasm, guidance and faith – it most likely can.
Jessica Taper, APR, is the President of Team T, an event management and marketing solutions company. Along with her corporate clients, she has a passion for helping the company’s nonprofit agency clients with their fundraising and ‘friend-raising’ efforts. teamtaper.com.
photo source: mypossibilities.com