Wings: A Special Needs Adult Community
“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a declaration penned by the founding fathers as one of the “unalienable rights” for all mankind. Written more than 200 years ago, it’s still upheld today as a “right” for every American. A group of parents in Edmond, Oklahoma, are working together to create a place that ensures that this freedom is available for children with disabilities.
These parents began meeting in 2002, and two years later, they established WINGS as a 501 © (3) corporation. Wynter Olsen-Casallas, the program coordinator for Wings, has a brother, Preston, who has Down Syndrome. This fact, coupled with her passion and understanding for the cause, made working for Wings, “a good fit,” says Wynter, who has a background in nonprofit management as well as a dual degree in family psychology and cross
Parents of adult children with disabilities want their children to be happy, healthy and well cared for. They want their children to have the same quality of life as adults that they had as children. In an endeavor to provide a safe place for their adult children to live and pursue happiness, the Wings parents began visiting programs around the United States. What they found was hope for the future.
The Brookwood community outside Houston, Texas, “was the answer we were looking for,” Wynter says. Brookwood offers everything that Wings is looking to become. “This is what we need, what our long-term goal looks like,” Wynter says.
In 2009, Wings began offering day programs consisting of art production, health and wellness, life skills, community service and character training. “We are working on independent living skills to help them be as independent as possible. They are capable of making contributions to society, and it’s important for us to provide this opportunity,” Wynter says. “We also teach them how to develop a profitable product line to help support the live-in community Wings will be some day.”
Wings has partnered with Whistling Wind and Life Change Ballroom to benefit the health and wellness aspect of the programs. “Our programs offer significant opportunities. Instead of giving up when something is difficult, we challenge and encourage them to try a different way. It’s fun to watch them persevere. They are proud of their success,” Wynter says.
Wings hosts a tour once a month for the community to see the classes in action. “Students give a 45-minute presentation about our program. Some of them have never spoken in public, so it’s a good experience,” Wynter says.
Interpersonal relationships are an important part of Wings. Volunteers from the metro invest in the lives of the students. “Our students are awesome. Everyone falls in love with them,” Wynter says. “In December, for our monthly field trip, we had a Christmas party. We had 10 students and 35 volunteers. They just wanted to hang out with our students because they are loving and full of life. They are amazing to be with.”
The Wings students have autism, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy or other undiagnosed types of cognitive or intellectual challenges. Students at Wings excel in sports like bowling, baseball and wrestling. James Price, a 22-year-old student, started playing in a baseball league when he was 12 years old. “When he went into the sixth grade, I wanted him to participate in normal activities. I started the Miracle League and a bowling league,” says his mother, Margo Price. “I opened doors for him, but he filled them himself.”
In addition to playing sports, James has two jobs, plays the drums, sings in the choir and is a door greeter at their church. James is also involved in Special Olympics. In 2010, he went to nationals in Special Olympics, winning two gold medals and one bronze. “He’s not competitive at all. In Special Olympics, even though he gets gold medals, he wouldn’t care if he got bronze. He has fun with his friends,” Margo says. “He is the perfect example of unconditional love. Most of us put on boundaries, but he doesn’t. He’s never intimidated by anyone. It’s wonderful to witness that.”
The Wings programs help parents become advocates for their children, paving the way through awareness. “I want to help someone else learn how to be an advocate for a child with special needs,” Wynter says. “Being differently able is an attribute about them. It doesn’t define who they are, but it’s something about them that makes them unique. Wings is there to help them be successful with the right opportunity and support.”
For more information you can visit their website at www.wingsok.org or call 405-436-1865.