Two frustrated moms met at a Starbucks in June of 2007.
Charmaine Solomon and another woman were trying to figure out what to do for their sons with special needs who would soon be leaving high school and losing their daily structure and support.
Instead of complaining about a lack of options, they started imagining an ideal situation for young adults with developmental disabilities.
Pen in hand, Solomon captured some of the ideas that were dashing between them. On the only piece of paper she could find, a Starbucks napkin, she noted:
Vision to Create Services for Adults with Cognitive Disabilities
Meaningful Day Programs
Hire Qualified Staff, teach
Place – safe with dignity
For parents who work
One of the phrases, “No babysitting” was underlined three times. “NO MONEY,” the only words written in capital letters, didn’t deter them.
After the idea session at Starbucks, Solomon held town hall meetings in Texas that drew several hundred people and demonstrated an interest in quality continuing education for those with developmental disabilities. One year after scrawling statements on a napkin, they started a nonprofit organization called My Possibilities which serves about 300 families a week.
“It’s still amazing to me that one moment in time in Starbucks would change the course of my life and make a difference in our local community,” said Solomon, Founder and Chairman of the Board of My Possibilities. “We have an even bigger vision now than when we started our business plan on a Starbucks napkin.”
Education generally stops after high school for a person with a developmental disability. Community programs for those with special needs often focus on keeping the individual safe and doing some basic activities. My Possibilities is concerned about safety and social activities also, but goes far beyond those basic needs to focus on education.
“Students work through a curriculum as they would in school, but instead of classes of math, science or history, My Possibilities teaches subjects on social skills, vocational skills, independent living, and health & wellness” said Michael Thomas, Executive Director of My Possibilities.
Art, music, and drama are also integral parts of the curriculum. The goal is for everybody aspire to their “highest possibilities,” he said. For some, that might mean getting a job in the community or living in their own apartment.
The next step for Solomon and her team is to create a college program – complete with a campus setting, residence halls and specializations or “degrees” – for those with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, Asperger syndrome, and other developmental delays.
Within a decade, what started as an idea on a napkin could become the first university for adults with special needs.
This is Charmaine’s Starbucks story. What’s yours?
The photos above feature Charmaine and her son Kyle holding the framed Starbucks napkin, and some of the students who are enrolled in My Possibilties vocational education classes.