Mike Prouty has spent countless Friday nights with the same group of friends for the past 12 years. But he is not sick of them. The 43-year-old arrived at a bowling alley with his parents, Bina and David Page, on a recent Friday.
Prouty wanted nothing more than to start racking up strikes with his friends. But the polite-as-can-be Meridian man waited to hit the lanes while his parents explained why Friday night events hosted by Community Partnerships of Idaho, a local company, are a blessing to the family.
"Peace of mind [that] he's in trustworthy hands," David Page said.
"It's a chance to be around other people his age," Bina Page said.
The events also give the couple a few hours to themselves.
Bina Page is a full-time caretaker for Prouty, who has autism. She's also a supporter of Community Partnerships. The company provides Prouty a social life. Staff members give him support, friendship and therapy. The couple say it's through Community Partnerships that they found support in a close-knit group of parents, too.
Community Partnerships is a 17-year-old company that challenges the notion that you can't make a profit if you rely on Medicaid and other state and federal money. Started by a group of friends in a West Boise office, the company is now a megaprovider of services for Idahoans who need support, developmental therapy and mental health care.
Community Partnerships' clients include children and adults with various intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Its services range from purely fun events like Friday Night Group to "supportive living" services that help clients live in their own homes with or without around-the-clock support.
BIRTH OF A COMPANY
By the mid-1990s, Katherine Hansen had worked for Easter Seals on the East Coast and the Arc in Boise - a nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She decided to launch her own company. She was 34.
A heart-to-heart with her father, former U.S. Rep. Orval Hansen, R-Idaho, convinced her that if she was going to run an organization, it would be one that helped people with disabilities lead happier, more fulfilling lives. After talking with her parents, she decided to forego the nonprofit model so popular with service-based organizations. She didn't want to sacrifice control of the business to a nonprofit board.
"They said, 'You guys have the vision and you have the goal. What if one day your board says [it's] time for you to go?'" Hansen says. "They really encouraged us to go the for-profit route."
Hansen's father told her to remember three things: "You've got to have fun. You've got to enjoy what you're doing - early on, you're going to be working 18- or 20-hour days, so you have to love what you do - [and] you have to make money. All you have to do is make one more dollar than you spent."
It took about $65,000 to get the company off the ground. All but $1,000 of that was a loan from Bank of America. Hansen and four friends chipped in their own savings for the $1,000 remainder, with Hansen contributing $600 and the others contributing $100 apiece. (Hansen eventually bought out her co-founders for $10,000 each.)
The loan was repaid in about two years, thanks to tight budgeting, office equipment hand-me-downs and the "pretty small salary" that Hansen and the other founders gave themselves.
"Back then, we had one office in Boise, and we all were wearing a ton of different hats," she says. "I was part janitor, as well as executive director, as well as developmental specialist."
Word spread fast, and with more generous Medicaid funding than now exists, the company was soon providing services as far as Gooding.
Community Partnerships is now a statewide company that takes in nearly $9 million a year with 10 offices and nearly 400 employees. The state paid the company about $6.2 million in 2012 for its work as a Medicaid provider, and almost $1 million for its work as a contractor training other providers. Contractors like Community Partnerships are certified by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for one to three years, depending on how well they are performing. Community Partnerships is in good standing with the state, so it has a three-year license right now.
Hansen says the key to survival has been diversifying what the company offers. What began as a developmental therapy agency now provides:
Employment and vocational services for adults with developmental disabilities.
Mental health care for adults and children, including a Boise mental health clinic.
Behavioral, developmental and psychosocial therapy in local schools.
The Friday Night Group and a summer camp, both of which charge participants fees. (The Friday Night Group fee is $20 per quarter. The event fees for Friday nights are in the $5 to $10 range - affordable for Jenny Joslyn, a Boise woman who lives independently and has attended Friday night events for five years because "I know I am going to have fun.")
Job and independent-living skills evaluations for disabled veterans through a Veterans Administration contract.
Early childhood programs through the SandCastles Learning Center that Community Partnerships bought in 2004, serving children at all levels of development.
IN THE SCHOOLS
Community Partnerships is a contractor for several Southwest Idaho schools, which basically pay the company from their pools of Medicaid money.
About 20 to 40 students in the Mountain Home School District are served by Community Partnerships, with development therapists and psychosocial rehabilitation workers showing up to classes to work one-on-one with students.
The workers coordinate with special-education teachers to help students reach developmental milestones or learn and practice skills they'll need as adults.
Tara Handy, director of educational services for the Mountain Home School District, says this can mean giving a student who has test anxiety a "nonverbal system," like placing a card on the corner of a desk, to alert a Community Partnerships worker that he or she is overwhelmed during a test. The worker can then take the student for a walk for a break, and the student doesn't have to feel embarrassed by asking for help in front of other students.
That way, Handy says, "we really learn what academically the student can achieve" when they're coping properly.
Fifth- and sixth-grade special education teacher Angela Fish has been working with Community Partnerships employees for about five years at her Mountain Home middle school. Two workers generally spend the entire school day with two of her students, Fish says.
"They're really good at reading the students and knowing what their needs are," she says.
The workers help Fish teach the students skills they'll need to be as independent as possible.
"One of my students has goals of being able to locate info in a telephone book," she says. "As a productive citizen, we've got to be able to access that kind of information."
Hansen says it's not easy to stay in the black. Sometimes, benefits such as mileage reimbursement get cut, she says. When the Legislature shaved developmental-disability services in 2011, Hansen and others told lawmakers that cutting services to people 45 and older would lead to as many as 234 layoffs in the developmental services industry.
There are 118 developmental disability agencies in Idaho, including Community Partnerships, according to Idaho Health and Welfare. They billed a total of $52.2 million last year.
"The Medicaid system [when the company started], people were allowed to get the services they needed," she says. "That was when you had some people receiving 30 hours of developmental therapy per week, so every day they would receive support from us from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m."
Hansen says budget cuts over the years now mean that someone graduating from high school may be eligible for only two hours of developmental therapy and 10 hours of adult day care, which consists of several adults doing activities in a group with one worker, instead of one-on-one time.
Bina Page says her son's developmental therapy has been cut every year for five years. She says cutting funds for adults with developmental disabilities is "very sneaky." Services may be critical for children, but adults need them as well, she says. Adulthood is when dementia hits, for example.
If the hours of covered services are cut any deeper, Prouty could lose the progress he has made, his mother says. He learns social skills, nutrition, exercise and budgeting from Community Partnerships.
"That needs constant teaching," she says.
Funding cuts may be stifling other services before they start, Hansen says.
"I don't think we could start an agency like [Community Partnerships] now," she says.
Community Partnerships relies on employees who are drawn to the work, not the money. Hansen says she makes about $80,000 a year and puts in about 60 hours a week. The average chief executive in the Boise-Nampa area makes $155,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many of the company's key staff members make "way below market for an equivalent position," she says. The average community and social-services worker in the Boise-Nampa area and statewide makes about $37,000 or $38,000 a year, according to the BLS.
Nonetheless, the company has a high staff-retention rate, Hansen says.
Chris Widdison of Boise has been running the Friday Night Group for 13 years.
It's one of several jobs that the high energy, all-smiles 39-year-old holds at Community Partnerships.
"I really appreciate being able to do what I do," he says. "We've built a trust with these families. ... That makes me want to work my hardest to [maintain] their trust."
The company holds on to workers like Widdison, who puts in about 50 hours a week, by rewarding them whenever possible. When the company makes a large enough profit beyond reinvesting in the company, it pays employees a year-end bonus. Last year's bonus payout was about $365,000, or an 8 percent bonus for the workers, Hansen says.
The experience, plus her political family, has led her to consider running for office at some point. She's not saying when, or if, that will happen. For now, she's focusing on the company.
"I feel very, very gifted," she says. "This has been such a huge part of my life, advocating and supporting people with disabilities."
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448