New Non-Profit Gives Special Needs People A Space To Socialize

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Amanda Owens’ older brother, Nick was the eleventh person in the world to be diagnosed with a rare chromosomal disability. With such little knowledge of the disease, doctors likened it to Down Syndrome and told the family Nick would likely live a sad and grim life, and urged her parents to place him in an institution.

“That was never an option for my parents. Today, Nick stands over all of us at 6 ft. 4 in. We just celebrated his 41st birthday. He has had significant health issues throughout his life, but Nick can walk, talk, and live a meaningful life he loves,” Amanda tells Love What Matters.

Sister and her older brother with chromasonal disability pose for photo
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

“Nick has been and always will be a kid at heart. He remained a child, while I grew up. Nick has never questioned his abilities or differences,” she says.

“He doesn’t understand he has a disability. My parents raised him to just be Nick.”

Growing up, Amanda watched the way that school provided a place for Nick to socialize and have a world outside his family. After he graduated, Amanda watched the quality of his life decline without the social stimulation.

Man with disability plays with his nephews
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

Working as a middle school special education teacher, Amanda saw a similar pattern with her students. Outside of school, there wasn’t much community support for people with disabilities. So, in 2012, she opened the non-profit Puzzle Pieces.

“We began with 32 clients and 4 staff members providing a social program that provided peer relationships to our clients and a trusted, trained care provider for their parents,” Amanda tells Love What Matters. “In the last 10 years we have grown to support over 400 clients and expanded our services to offer vocational training, job placement, our region’s only targeted autism programming, behavior services, residential living, and so much more with a staff of over 100.”

Non-profit celebrates ten year anniversary
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

Amanda’s work has been inspired by the compassion and strength she saw in the way her parents raised her and her brother.

“Growing up, I didn’t think there was anything ‘weird’ about my family. My parents did an amazing job of making sure Nick and I both had everything we needed,” Amanda says.

“My mom remains my biggest supporter. Through my journey, I realize the sacrifices she had to make for my brother and how her advocacy shaped my journey and purpose. I live every day trying to honor her sacrifices and help other women like her.”

Mom, dad, sister, and older brother with disability in tropical shirts
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

Puzzle Pieces works to create an inclusive community to provide the same opportunities Amanda’s mom gave her children to everyone in the community.

“My goal for Puzzle Pieces is to continue to create opportunities for those with disabilities in my community. I want to live in an inclusive community that values individuals with disabilities,” Amanda says. “I want the people that I serve to be thought of first instead of last and have a seat at the table. I eventually want to franchise our nonprofit and help other communities become more inclusive and value their neighbors with disabilities.”

Non-profit owner poses with teen girl in a wheelchair
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

Puzzle Pieces has been able to grow tremendously over the past 10 years and has created a more inclusive community in an area that often lacked the resources and support systems for people with disabilities. The non-profit’s impact comes not just from their goals and mission, but from the love and passion that pours from Amanda and her family for Nick and for everyone else who deserves an equal life and opportunity.

Younger sister poses with brother with chromasonal disability
Courtesy of Amanda Owen

This article was written for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. You can follow our contributor, Amanda Owen, on Instagram and explore the “Puzzle Pieces” website. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

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