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Non-profit sees center as model for the future

Rochester Business Journal
September 13, 2013

When the Pieters Family Life Center opened in 2007, Heritage Christian Services expected that the 21,000-square-foot health and wellness center would become a focal point of its services.
The center would allow the organization to provide services to its population of developmentally disabled individuals, but it also would bring in members from the community and create new partnerships with other non-profit groups.
Heritage Christian Services sees the facility as a model for the future of service delivery, and the model has worked so well that the organization now is looking for ways to expand, including new residential space on campus.
The Pieters Family Life Center has multiple settings for clinical support and physical therapy. There is a fitness center with equipment designed to accommodate disabled users or those with wheelchairs, and a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool has an adjustable floor.
There are also rooms for art and music therapy and physical therapy, plus a multipurpose gymnasium for sports and family recreation.
But the center is not just about physical health, said Marisa Geitner, Heritage Christian Services president. Instead it is designed to bring members from across the community into a space shared by people with developmental disabilities as well as local residents, families and others receiving services.
"We were aiming for a way to engage the broader community," she said. "While serving those with developmental disabilities has always been the heart of the matter, we're blessed to share what we have with everyone."
Geitner said the center has created a model of what service delivery to people with developmental disabilities should look like. She noted that while Medicaid reform has brought changes to nearly all levels of care, services for the developmentally disabled traditionally have been the last to change.
So instead of waiting for reform, Heritage Christian Services set out to make its own. The model the organization created with the Pieters Family Life Center focuses on allowing clients to remain as active and independent as possible, the same focus that state and federal funding has shifted toward.
Programs work with clients to increase their life skills. For example, an after-school program for teenagers has them work in an adapted kitchen and gives them job skills. Art therapy classes also help patients find new and productive forms of self-expression.
"We're trying to create what we feel is a robust, compassionate, healthy and caring environment," said Andrew Little, director of the center. "The results are great. When people come here, they're doing some very hard work, but they all look forward to it."
For many clients the goal is to help them achieve a level of health and independence that allows them to move on to other settings. Clients receiving physical therapy, for instance, eventually would gain the strength and skills that let them continue exercise programs in settings closer to their homes.
"The goal is getting people the support they need when they need it," Geitner said. "Gone are the days when you would just put someone into a residential setting and leave them there."
Many clients who come to the Pieters Family Life Center have not received the services they need, Little added. The organization works with many people who have fallen through the cracks, those considered well enough not to receive some services but still in need of support.
To pursue its mission, Heritage Christian Services has developed partnerships over the last six years. Unity Health System provides services at the center, and groups like the Alzheimer's Association refer clients for services.
The organization's partners receive a lot in return, Geitner said, pointing to a collaboration with Nazareth College of Rochester. When the center was being built, officials from the college's therapy programs provided consultation on what was needed. Once the center was completed, Nazareth sent students from its therapy and paramedical programs to work with clients.
The partnership has now come full circle, Geitner said. This year, when Nazareth made renovations to the building housing therapy programs, it sent representatives to the Pieters Family Life Center to get ideas.
Geitner said her organization is always on the lookout for new potential partners, and many groups now have come to Heritage Christian Services for partnerships as well.
There also will be expansion on the roughly 10 undeveloped acres on the campus, she said. For the past two years, Heritage Christian Services has been working on gaining subsidies for supportive housing, with initial plans to build 53 units with 11 set aside for supportive housing for people with developmental disabilities.
Officials also are looking into ways to expand the center itself.
"We haven't made any specific plans, but it would have to be something that complements our mission here, and possibly something focused on medical would be a good addition," Geitner said. "Whatever we do, it would need to be solution-focused. We've created a model that allows people to be hopeful, and everything we do has to build toward that goal."

9/13/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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