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'More Than You See' benefit marks 65 years of Exceptional Persons Inc.

posted on Thursday, May 19, 2022

*This article was originally posted in the Waterloo - Cedar Falls Courier and is written by Melody Parker. View the article here.

For the past 65 years, Exceptional Persons Inc. has assisted people with disabilities and differing needs become participants in their community, find gainful employment and increase independent living skills.

“At EPI, we continue to build on our legacy and history and work to build awareness so people feel welcome in the community. We are ‘more than you see.’ Our mission is to connect people, create opportunities and nurture growth,” said Katie Slade, interim executive director.

“More Than You See” is the theme for Friday’s outdoor benefit celebration showcasing persons of all abilities and celebrating EPI’s 65th anniversary. The event takes place from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at River Place Plaza, 100 E. Second St., in Cedar Falls. A short program is planned. Food and beverage vendors will be on site.

“It’s fun to have an event that lets people see what we do and celebrates what EPI does. We are all ‘more than we see’ – we all have strengths and talents,” Slade said. “In the 65 years since EPI was founded, the organization has continued to evolve while maintaining its core mission.”

Exceptional Persons Inc., is a private, nonprofit, charitable organization. When EPI was founded as a service organization in 1957, “there were not a lot of options available for people with disabilities,” Slade said. Parents of children with disabilities were advised to keep their children at home or find an institution that could provide care.

EPI founder William Brown, who served as executive director from 1957 to 1983, knew there had to be a better way. He set out to break down stigmas surrounding people with disabilities and provide better opportunities, particularly for children and their parents.

“He was a visionary,” said Slade. “The organization was started in a church basement.” The original intention was to facilitate and coordinate development of local activity centers, services, programs, agencies and organizations to serve this community through a sense of partnership.

“It’s cool to see how we’ve evolved and how the community has supported our mission,” Slade said.

EPI continues to be flexible to meet individual needs of the people it serves. The organization fosters community participation of individuals and families served while encouraging their choices and preferences.

Communication Specialist Bethany Giachino noted, “We’ve come a long way from that first group home, and we continue to evolve. People chose their home and the people they want to live with. We offer extensive services and assistance in things like staying safe in their home, budgeting, banking, grocery shopping and good nutrition and how to live independently and participate in their community.”

In 2021, EPI served 400 individuals through community and family services programs, as well as providing employment services to 139 individuals, housing for nearly 200 people and information and referral for 339 people.

EPI’s supported employment services prepare participants for competitive jobs, which contributes to a sense of belonging in the community. Those individualized skills include developing good work habits and behavior, socialization and matching employee skills to work opportunities that pay a competitive wage. “We want people to find and keep a job that matches a person’s interest,” Slade explained.

The organization also offers day habilitation services that are individually tailored to each participant and provide opportunities to develop and increase independence, enable or enhance intellectual and cognitive functioning, socialization, behavior management, daily living activities and more.

In addition to offering support and options to people with a variety of disabilities, Child Care Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa is a community-based EPI program providing assistance in 19 counties and one of five regional providers in Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral. Parents can learn about child care availability and training child care providers have completed in their area, along with other tools and information.

The Hawkeye Child Development Center at the Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center in downtown Waterloo was created four years ago in partnership with Hawkeye Community College.

The first “More Than You See” event took place in 2013 “out of a desire to educate the public about EPI and connect it with a fundraising event. We wanted to reach out to the community,” Slade said. “I’ve been amazed by positive feelings and support we receive from the community.”

“Fundraising sustains the programming that we do,” said Madeline Rummel, development specialist. “There is no charge to attend, but we are requesting a free-will donation of at least $10 per person.”

Dan Deery Motor Co. is the presenting sponsor. Participating food vendors are Urban Pie, Wilbo Burgers, Brats & Beer, Chocolaterie Stam and Here’s What’s Poppin’.

Rain date is May 25.