KILLEEN — Working in the Copperas Cove school district four years ago, Linda Valentine and Susan Kinder saw a need to provide additional support for disabled students transitioning out of high school. At that time, Valentine was working as a substitute teacher in special education classes, while Kinder was working as a paraeducator with special needs children.
“We would work with all of the special education students,” Valentine said. “As they would graduate, we would get sadder and sadder because we saw many students who would leave and had nothing to do after school finished.”
She and Kinder discussed the lack of programs available to these graduating students and decided take action.
Together they visited the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation to receive guidance with their business plan, hoping to create a program supporting these disabled young adults.
After running the program on their own for a few years, they joined the Operation Phantom Support, a charity focused on helping military families in downtown Killeen. Working with Operation Phantom Support for the past year has provided more resources and opportunities to the program and the disabled young adults whom they serve.
Known as Infinite Possibilities, the program operates out of a building on Eighth Street in Killeen. While they are very thankful for the space, Valentine points out, “It took six months to get the building up to code where we could then invite people in and utilize their services.”
The program is open to military and nonmilitary families.
The facility in downtown Killeen has been remodeled and is broken into several different areas, including space for instructional, social, dining and break rooms.
“We liked the fact that it was split into two areas, so we could have classes on one side, away from the other more social areas,” Valentine said.
The disabled young adults who spend time with Infinite Possibilities are exposed to a loosely structured environment. Away from their homes, they can explore different environments within their community, helping create a stronger feeling of independence.
“By tapping into those different interests, they may find other passions that they didn’t even realize they had, that they can build on, increasing their quality of life,” Valentine said.
Valentine and Kinder hope to have a fully functioning kitchen and provide a culinary program in the future.
“Some of our young people can do a lot of stuff. It’s just that they haven’t been exposed to these opportunities,” Kinder said.
Within the next five to seven years, Infinite Possibilities would like to open a café where the young adults could utilize the food they grow to serve the public.
“It will be a very simple café, like soups and sandwiches, but they will be the ones working the café, and we will be the ones behind them when they need assistance,” Valentine said. “That way they can have a sense of being productive, that they have a place where they belong, that they fit in without having to confirm to someone else’s idea of normal.”
She said many special needs young people who graduate from high school don’t have the capability of working in the private sector.
“They need that person behind them, or that group,” Valentine said. “We will provide that for them. The ones who can work out in the public, they could be working eventually at the farmer’s market. Their math skills will improve, their communication skills, their social skills will improve because they’ll be dealing with the public.”
Infinite Possibilities looks forward to working with local school districts, partnering with them in the future with their transitioning students.
“We’re reaching out, and it’s a slow process,” Kinder said. “We would like to get to know the transition teachers in the area. Our goal is to collaborate with the schools, and other programs in the area, too.”
Valentine adds that they would like to network with other area support programs, as well. “We should all know who’s doing what. If somebody doesn’t fit here, because we aren’t set up for medically fragile disabled adults, we should know if there’s something out there so we could refer them when if they came in to us.”
Infinite Possibilities is currently supporting two young adults, with the capacity to provide services for up to 35 patrons. More staff could be added as the program expands. Before working with young adults, personnel must undergo a background check and strict training regimen.
“As we build, we’ll need more volunteers. Right now, though, we need help with fundraising,” Kinder said.
Lorraine Mendoza, director of Infinite Possibilities’ gardening program explains, “We have great ideas. We were talking about a 5k run and a barbecue cook-off, which obviously entails a whole lot of organization and time to coordinate.”
Mendoza adds, “We’ll do fundraisers, but right now we’re doing smaller workshops and things we can manage better.”
Infinite Possibility’s next fundraiser is a spring fashion show on April 16.