Mentally Challenged Adults Get New Start


Jane Crawford, 39, and Daniel Blaylock, 26, are learning to shop and they're learning some other things, too.

For most people, shopping skills begin early, when they're young children and their parents give them a quarter in the store and tell them to go pay the cashier for the candy they've picked out.

But Jane and Daniel, who are developmentally disabled, are still learning about coins. They have to work to figure out the difference between a quarter and a dime.

The skills that make up the daily activities that most people take for granted have to be carefully taught.

"This is what makes our program unique," said Esther Samarripas, head of a new program in town for developmentally disabled adults and children.

The Samarripas Center for New Beginnings, Inc. is teaching its adult clients daily living skills -- shopping, reading, writing, playing. They even learn how to go to a fast food restaurant and order food.

"Socializing is a biggie," said Esther.

Until school began, the Star Valley center had six children in its summer program and the program centered around summer activities such as swimming, bowling, taking trips to the library and to the park. The center now has three adult clients and plans for an after-school program.

Esther and her husband, Robert, have been independent providers who have had contracts with the state for 18 years. "We work as a team and have experience with all types of disabilities -- autistic kids, physically and mentally adults and children," she said.

Their recent move to Payson and subsequent search for support for their program was not without difficulty.

"We started from scratch," said Robert Samarripas. "It was hard to open doors here, but there were families who supported us."

Families in Payson who needed the services the couple provide wrote letters on their behalf, which they took to the state.

"My husband and I had quit our jobs -- we needed help to get us going," Esther said. With the letters from the parents that went to state and county officials, the Samarripases got the new agency up and running June 16. "We get funding from the state," she said.

Before coming to Payson, the couple worked for school districts in the Valley. Robert was with the Washington School District and Esther was with Phoenix Union.

"About a year ago, we bought a place -- a commercial home in Payson," said Esther. "But we went ahead and started here in Star Valley."

They also hired a part-time employee, Leticia Lozano, a college student who plans to have a career working with people with special needs.

The facility at the east end of Highway 260 in Star Valley is small, a single room with a divider to separate the children from the adults. On the walls are drawings and photos, special certificates and awards -- testimonies to the creative energy of the program. They are the things a proud parent would display, hearts and flowers, scribbled notes of hope and love, posters and pictures.

In their Payson home, the Samarripases provide respite and attendant care.

"We're always busy," Esther said. "A lot of times, the parents will just drop by my home and ask me to care for their son or daughter for two, three hours."

On Thursday, Jane and Daniel went shopping at Wal-Mart with Leticia and Esther. They had shopping lists made up of cut-out and pasted pictures of the single item each would get.

They would search the aisles until they found the items. Then they would place them in their shopping carts. Each step was deliberate -- a learning experience. Finding the item was only part of the process, but it was a treasure hunt that resulted in a sense of achievement expressed through smiles and cheers.

"Jane will shop for one or more items from a dollar to $5, using the next dollar strategy," said Esther. "She doesn't know her coins."

The goal is to develop 50 percent accuracy after two months.

"Once we get to the cashier, we have to cue her," Esther said.

Jane found the hair mousse she was looking for and Daniel located the after-shave cologne. They took the items to the register, handed over the money, waited for their change and the receipt, put both in their wallets, and thanked the cashier.

They had successfully completed the simple task of shopping, but for Jane and Daniel, it was more than just completing an errand -- it was a learning experience.

"They did all they were supposed to do," said Esther. "They counted how much they needed and waited for the receipt. They got their receipts and said 'thank you,' and put the receipts away."

After shopping, the group stopped at the pop machine outside Wal-Mart. Jane and Daniel carefully picked out the coin they would need for the machine.

There was a time when Jane couldn't figure out where to put the coin in the machine, but she's got it down now.

"She's learned quite a bit," said Esther.

The group got in the agency's van and headed back to the center. Once they were back at the facility in Star Valley, Daniel put away his after shave cologne and sat down at a table with Robert Samarripas to work on his eye-hand coordination. Daniel took a pencil and carefully wrote his name, going over each letter, over and over again.

Daniel has been in the program a month, and his parents have reported a big improvement, Esther said. "He's doing things at the house instead of just sitting there," she said.

The center accepts clients 18 years old and older who are Title 19-eligible for the adult program. Private pay is also an option for the program, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Children in the after-school program will meet from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. For information on the Samarripas Center for New Beginnings, Inc., call 472-6969 or 472-6332.

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