The Village Learning Center, located just off Northpark Drive in Kingwood on Plum Valley Drive, is a special place serving very special people in our community. Executive Director Marcus Denman described the center’s objective of social inclusion and community integration for those with special needs by quoting its motto: “We learn to grow to achieve.”
However, the reality of achieving is a lot more complex than a six-word motto. It is all about opening doors of opportunity to people with disabilities and special needs in many different situations. These are people who find routine living far more difficult and far less “fun” than it is for most of us. The Village Learning Center is all about making their lives less difficult, more fulfilling and full of fun. It has been serving the Kingwood area for 19 years since its founding in 2000 by Kim Brusatori. She and a group of local area families found themselves raising children with disabilities and special needs such as Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities with few support services available. Denman explained that as Brusatori’s child and those of the other families approached the end of their childhood education, the inevitable question arose: Where do we go from here? Nearly two decades ago they found little in the way of facilities and programs in Kingwood to help answer that question. As a result, Brusatori and her friends founded The Village.
“The Village began with a van taking their loved ones to other day-care facilities where they could get good socialization and interactions with other individuals with disabilities,” Denman said. He explained the challenges of transporting young people to faraway assistant services on a daily basis or even not being able to access them at all. As a result, the van service steadily grew into the learning and achievement center that it is today.
“Fast forward to 2019: We are now The Village Learning Center. We operate our own day programs for individuals with disabilities and our focus is on social inclusion, community integration and having fun,” Denman said. The Village facilities include six physical structures that make up three learning centers, one assisted-living center for 14 residents, and one independent-living apartment complex of 15 units for those with limited cognitive or other impairments but who can live independently. The sixth facility is the Village Thrift Shop located on Highway 494 just north of Northpark Drive. It reopened Feb. 1 after being closed for a month for redesigning and updating to better serve the public and The Village mission.
Denman noted that The Village accomplishes its mission through three specific programs referenced in its motto: The “Learn” program is where social and interaction skills are developed.
The “Grow” program includes structured physical education, music and movement, outside activities, group relay games, and exercise videos. “Grow” activities also include working to increase participation and generalize skills in both community and work environments.
The “Achieve” program begins with structured instructional time which includes a curriculum-based educational program that offers the higher-skilled Villagers the opportunity to more fully develop their vocational skills. Such topics as personal management, career management, life management, professional manners, work ethic, and job-survival skills are included. Off-site work training opportunities are a part of the program and represent half of the activities in the program. Each student has the opportunity to spend up to five hours a week in a training work environment.
Denman said 2019 promises to be one of The Village’s most successful years. The reason is because of several programs and projects now underway or being planned. That includes the refurbishment of the thrift shop. Denman is also optimistic about The Village taking advantage of opportunities made possible this year through a City of Houston vocational grant.
“We have started an initiative with the City Of Houston through a vocational grant. The grant will enable us to create vocational job opportunities such as shredding,” said Denman. He said The Village has implemented a document-shredding service where the customer can drop off documents for shredding. For a fee, The Village will take possession and shred documents that need to be destroyed. It will also provide a “Certificate of Destruction” which is often required in today’s world. He explained that this is the kind of work that lends itself well to providing good jobs for those with special needs. The shredding facility is located in the newly redesigned thrift shop on Highway 494.
In addition to the thrift shop, there are three annual functions The Village uses to raise money and support. They are the 19th annual golf tournament scheduled for April 1 which includes a silent auction, the annual talent show, and the annual gala. Specific dates will be announced when known on the Village’s website, villagelac.org.