CULLMAN, Ala. – Flourish of Cullman has only been around for three years, but the organization that works to enable those often considered unable has already seen enough success to draw state-level attention and recognition.
Co-Founder and Executive Director Melissa Dew described the origin and purpose of Flourish:
“For many years, my partner Sharon Kane and I worked with people with disabilities in school settings and through occupational therapy. We often worried about how our students would live their best lives after they were no longer eligible to attend public schools. Where would they get ongoing skills training and support to help them be productive members of the community? We envisioned and created Flourish of Cullman to provide these important services. Flourish of Cullman assists disabled individuals in developing independent living skills through life coaching, job attainment and social integration. We offer training, job placement, counseling, social interaction, structured play, and other services that enable people with disabilities to increase their independence. Your donation will help these members of our community live flourishing lives.”
Flourishing in 2019
Dew told The Tribune, “We currently have 45 participants enrolled with Flourish. We receive the majority of our funding through ADRS (Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services); we had 56 referrals from them last year for milestone services. This is to help individuals with different abilities to gain employment in our community. We have placed 22 individuals in jobs and job coached them to success. We provide life coaching and social interaction to help with maintaining a job. We also help individuals to see a vision for their life.”
In 2019, Flourish got the opportunity to provide the ADRS-funded Job Exploration Training (JET) program for 10th through 12th grade Cullman city and county students with disabilities. They received two weeks of soft skill training and two weeks of paid work experience. Flourish will repeat JETS in June 2020.
The group also worked in the county and city systems to provide other ADRS programs like Smart Work Ethics, Financial Literacy and career interest inventories to students in the 9th through 12th grades to assist students in finding career paths.
Flourish also started a laundry service to give individuals the skills they need to move into employment in the community. At present, four individuals are working and getting paid. Customers can drop off their laundry at the Edelman Properties coin laundry on Highway 278 West near West Elementary School, or Flourish’s worker will pick up and drop off.
Lastly, Flourish also developed a volunteer program that allows participants to volunteer their time with various community nonprofits for three days per week.
Big time recognition: Agency of the Year
Flourish was recognized in July 2019 by the Alabama Association for People in Supported Employment (AL-APSE) as Agency of the Year.
Dew told The Tribune at that time, “The criteria for it was that, you know, what do you do to go above and beyond what a person needs. Really, the only thing that Vocational Rehab requires us to do is to job coach and help them find jobs. But we realized that, if a person cannot communicate with others or get along with others, that’s a barrier to employment. We do social gatherings for them once a week, where they are planning the activities, and we’re doing things out in the community. We also do life coaching, so if they want to live independently in Cullman, we help them through life coaching develop a vision for their life and where they want it to be in five years.”
Volunteers, partners and supporters make a big difference
Said Dew, “We love our volunteers!
“Friends of Smith Lake started Dream Day for us last year and will continue doing it this year in July. We spend the day on boats and at different lake houses enjoying, and volunteers mentor the participants on how they have been successful. You can follow the event on Facebook with Dream Day on Smith Lake. Emily Chamblee is the organizer. This is a completely free event for Flourish participants. All money is raised through our Friends of Smith Lake.
“Cullman (Electric) Co-op is a big volunteer for us, hosting bingo socials and attending different social events for mentoring.
“We were awarded Agency of the Year at the State AL-APSE, Alabama Association for People in Supported Employment, for our numbers and our overall success with placing individuals in employment. Cullman businesses are awesome, they have opened doors for individuals that want to work!
“We have an annual bingo and silent auction at Goat Island (Brewing). This year the theme is ‘Roaring 20s;’ it will be lots of fun. The event is sponsored by Lee Powell at Country Financial. Last year we sold 150 tickets; this year we are on track to sell 250 tickets! The event is Feb. 8. Tickets are on sale now; you can purchase them on our web page or at our office.
“We also do a golf tournament in September called Putting FORE Independence at Cross Creek Golf Course. Last year, we raised $2,000.”
A new home and new plans
In November 2019, Flourish moved into its new location in the country, at 1244 County Road 735 between Berlin and Welti.
Dew said, “All the $12,000 we raised (for the property) came from community donations and Facebook donations. We are now working on the second half, which will be an independent living skills apartments to assist individuals in becoming independent in living.
“We are currently working on getting CARF accredited; this is Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. It is like a gold stamp of approval that our business is self-supporting. This will be a big accomplishment for us and will make us eligible to provide more services funded by ADRS. We hope to have everything in place for that survey at the end of 2020. The cost for the survey is estimated to cost us $12,000.”
The final word
Dew told The Tribune, “Myself-executive director-and Sharon Kane-director of services-are the founders of Flourish. We have been in business since 2016. We started with just $1,000 and we have assembled a dream team! We have seven employees other than ourselves. They work for pennies on a dollar because they believe in the impact we make on individuals’ lives and our community. Teamwork makes the dream work!”
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