Mainstay – Building community for adults with intellectual disabilities, supporters

July 2022 Posted in Community

By Melissa Wagoner

On the day Kriston Norris and Rebecca Ortega met at Silverton Indoor Park in 2003 they never could have imagined what their friendship – or the friendships of their four-year-old sons, Noah and Carson – would come to mean.

“We’ve walked the same path,” Ortega – whose son, Carson, was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at roughly the same time as Norris’ son, Noah was diagnosed with autism – explained. Recalling how their shared circumstances created a bond between the foursome that went beyond casual playdates, developing into a relationship that consisted of shared resources and an ongoing discussion centered around what the future would bring.

“We’ve always had the conversation – what will their lives look like?” Ortega said describing the mothers’ collective concern over the well-being of their sons once their years in the Silver Falls School District came to an end.

Participants and their supporters painted rocks one afternoon at Coolidge McClaine Park Pavilion.

Participants and their supporters painted rocks one afternoon at Coolidge McClaine Park Pavilion.

And they’re not the only ones who have voiced this question Rachel Ayers said. She is head of the Transition Program – a branch of the Silver Falls School District’s Special Education Department that teaches life skills to and helps to find employment for SHS alumni ranging in age from 18 to 21.

There are many adults with intellectual disabilities who struggle to build a new community post-graduation, especially one as vibrant and as easily accessed as that offered by a high school or transition program.

“Because they don’t just go to class, they’re very involved in the whole school community,” Ayers pointed out, citing Carson’s involvement in extracurricular activities like high school track as a prime example.

“You have all those friendships,” she continued. “And then what?”

Which was precisely Ortega and Norris’ concern as their sons’ education drew to a close. Thankfully, the answer was close at hand.

“We’ve picked up friends and community members along the way,” Ortega said. She and Norris sent an invitation to those parents, educators, community members and organizational leaders who she thought might support the pair’s idea. Which was, put simply, a dedicated space where adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their support persons could form lasting relationships.

“I said, this is the time!” Ayers said, describing her enthusiasm for the project they would eventually coin, Silverton Mainstay.

And she wasn’t the only one who felt that way, in fact, 15 people showed up for Mainstay’s first brainstorming session, with six signing on long term. But the best result came when an alliance was forged, almost immediately, between Silverton Mainstay and Silver Falls YMCA.

“They decided to adopt us,” Ayers said. Listing the many benefits the union will provide, beginning, this summer, with the no-cost rental of the Coolidge McClaine Park Pavilion every Tuesday and Thursday between 1 and 4 p.m. and culminating, when the weather cools, in the provision of an indoor space at the YMCA building on Water Street.

“It’s Kait,” Ayers said, referring to the influence Silver Falls YMCA Director Kait Andrews had on the organization’s direction. “She has a brother with autism and she’s getting a degree in clinical psychology.”

It’s connectionss like these that have influenced so many community members and organizations to get involved.

“Silvertonians are very good about looking around and finding a need and getting behind it,” Ortega said.

That is important because programs like this one – which attempts to keep its costs low in order to keep participation free – are always in need of both funding and volunteers.

“Like if people… have a specific activity they could bring… or if they have a specific skill,” Ortega said of the need for more volunteers to head up projects.

The majority of any afternoon’s activities are only loosely mapped out, affording participants plenty of time to socialize and observe. But there is always at least one structured activity.

“But it’s not about ability,” Norris stressed. “It’s about community.”

That community includes not only the participants but family members and support persons as well.

“That piece… it’s kind of like Indoor Park but the flip side,” Ayers said. She pointed out that for Ortega
and Norris, a 19-year journey has, in many ways, come full-circle.

“This is a long-term vision from now until forever,” Ortega said. And that, at least, is some peace of mind.

An opportunity to socialize

A community space for Silverton area adults aged 18 and older who have been diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Coolidge McClaine Park Pavilion, Silverton
Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m.

No cost for those ages 18 and older with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Register online, at the Silver Falls YMCA, at
503-873-6456 or at the Pavilion.

Participants in need of support must be accompanied by a support person.

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