January 14, 2014

Little River program provides life skills for adults with special needs

The dozen students in the Current Transitions program in Little River sat with interest one recent Wednesday listening to Gracie Williams explain the difference between fact and opinion.

The dozen students in the Current Transitions program in Little River sat with interest one recent Wednesday listening to Gracie Williams explain the difference between fact and opinion.

“What activities do you enjoy doing?” Williams asked.

“I like soccer because it’s fun,” said Hattie Hicks, 28, of Longs.

“That’s an opinion,” said Williams, a volunteer in the program and whose son, Jeremy , 40, is enrolled in it.

Scott Carter, 36, of Little River explained that “News for You,” Current Transitions’ own newspaper, is factual because it has stories that really happened.

The year-old Current Transitions program provides life skills and social activities for adults with cognitive disorders and intellectual disabilities. Several of the 14 students have jobs, and they appreciate the opportunity to enhance their skills and meet others. Classes run three hours, three days a week, and founder Linda Trost provides opportunities for students to use skills they learn.

Trost said special needs adults, including the ones she works with, need transportation to get to Current Transitions, so when Coast RTA cut bus routes last year it affected her program.

“It’s the trickle-down effect,” she said.

Parents now have to bring their children to the program and they carpool when they can. Trost purchased a 14-person van, but it sits in the parking lot because she doesn’t have the money to pay for a driver. She and her husband, Dion, hope they can find someone to volunteer to drive, especially since the program gets two to three new clients every week.

Despite transportation issues, Trost arranged for her students to wrap gifts for customers at Barnes & Noble at Market Common and showed them how to make Christmas gifts for foster children in December. She organized Christmas shopping excursions and taught money management so they could spend wisely.

The 2010 U.S. census reports that about 56.7 million people, 19 percent of the population, have a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act passed 23 years ago and guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

Trost began her career when she applied for a job in a recreation department and was asked to work with special needs individuals.

“Ever since then I’ve been hooked,” she said. “It’s a job of love.”

She taught prevention education, a program similar to DARE, when she lived in California. While in Texas, she was life skills coordinator at a ranch for special needs adults. Her move to South Carolina with husband, Dan, four years ago prompted her to think of retiring, but that idea went by the wayside.

“I could not sit on the beach anymore,” she said. “That got old real fast. I had a lot of free time.”

She became familiar with People Moving Up and was convinced there was a need in the community for Current Transitions.

People Moving Up is a self-advocacy program created by a grant from The Arc of Coastal Carolina, an association for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Susan Bermas of Little River explained that students in People Moving Up elect officers and plan their own activities, such as miniature golf, dinners at restaurants and visits to local attractions. As mother/mentor for her daughter, Gina Bermas, 41, the current president of the group, Susan Bermas facilitates the activities.

Trost began organizing her program when she received positive feedback. She offered parents/mentors 10 hours of training in Video Modeling, a program by special education expert James Stanfield, and applied for and received 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Trost doesn’t take a salary or reimbursement for supplies she provides, and everyone who assists her is a volunteer.

Hicks’ sister, Heather Cordero, volunteers when her work schedule permits.

“I wouldn’t let [Hattie] go to a group home,” Cordero said, and explained that she moved Hattie from Goldsboro, N.C. to Longs a few months ago. “I brought her to live with me. I’m here as much as I can be.”

Volunteer Carol Mattiucci of Little River said she heard of Current Transitions at a Pilot Club meeting.

“I’ve volunteered a lot in special needs. My grandson is autistic,” she said.

Suzanne Shirer, special education teacher at North Myrtle Beach High School, praises Trost’s program.

“I was so excited about it because students have somewhere to go after high school,” she said.

She explained that she teaches job skills and keeps students until they reach 21.

“If they don’t continue the skills, they will regress,” she said. “It would break my heart if they didn’t have some place to go.”

“We keep them busy,” Trost said. “They all get along. They’ve bonded with each other.”

Her son, Rian Trost, is an artist and teaches the students how to draw. He also does the “News for You” newspaper and asks them questions about it.

Several students are active in Special Olympics. Scott Carter, 36, of Little River, said he enters in bowling, boxing and track and field. Michael Brightwell, 22, of Myrtle Beach took third place in golf this year.

“There’s a social aspect to the program,” said Sue Trost, Linda’s sister-in-law, who dropped by. “They can come and interact with each other, not sit at home all the time. I have seen amazing progress,” she added. “They are doing more then when they started. Linda is amazing. She knows what to do, and she’s super-patient.”

“I like the fact that it gives him something to do,” said Brightwell’s mother, Pam Benigno.

“I think [Current Transitions] is a wonderful training program,” Bermas said. “It’s helping Gina at her job.”

Trost and the seven-member board are preparing for the second annual golf tournament fundraiser. Dan’s co-workers at Chevron come from around the world to participate.

Last year 27 men competed, and this year Trost expects twice that many. It is scheduled for April 26 at Pine Lakes Golf Course in Myrtle Beach. Information is at www.currenttransitions.com.

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