Aurora company puts ‘able’ back into everyone’s lives

For the thousands of Coloradans with intellectual or developmental disabilities, carving out a societal niche can be a daunting task, if not an impossible one.

AURORA | For the thousands of Coloradans with intellectual or developmental disabilities, carving out a societal niche can be a daunting task, if not an impossible one.

Inadequate funding. Limited employment opportunities. A lack of appropriate, supportive housing options. Each of those factors is a hurdle for the estimated 1.5 to 2.5 percent of the American population that lives with some sort of an intellectual or developmental disability, according to the Bethesda Institute.

Dennis Kirkman poses for a portrait in his office at Support Inc. on June 16, 2015 in Aurora, CO. (Photo by Trevor L Davis/Aurora Sentinel)
Dennis Kirkman poses for a portrait in his office at Support Inc. on June 16, 2015 in Aurora, CO. (Photo by Trevor L Davis/Aurora Sentinel)

But for more than 25 years, Support Inc. has aimed to clear some of those obstacles, even if just slightly, in order to improve the life of hundreds of people in the metro area.

The company works to provide in-home care, alternative family placement, and independent living arrangements for the some 4,000 intellectually or developmentally disabled Coloradans currently log-jammed in the state system, waiting to be placed into housing. Another prong of the company’s services is its day program at the Aurora location, which sets up therapeutic and volunteer opportunities for a group of about 40 regular attendees five days a week, according to the business’ website.

“We sort of operate on a foster-care model,” said Dennis Kirkman, who founded Support Inc. in 1989. “What we’re looking for is a family looking for another family member essentially.”

Over the years, Support Inc. has developed a pool of families across the metro area who are interested and capable of hosting an adult with intellectual or developmental disabilities — sometimes for decades at a time.

“It really is long-term care, as long as the client and the client’s family want to stay in that placement,” Kirkman said. “I’ve had customers who have been with me for 20 years.”

In that time Kirkman has seen his company bloom, growing its client base from a meager 13 to now more than 150 people whom it supports and monitors. Over the past year alone, Support Inc. more than doubled its number of employees, surging from about 65 to about 140. The company also recently added an office in Loveland and already has plans to open a third outpost in Colorado Springs.

That growth recently garnered the organization statewide attention, and resulted in Support Inc. being named one of 50 Colorado companies to watch in 2015 by the eponymous organization’s annual list on June 8. It was the only Aurora-based firm to be granted the honor.

“It is a recognition of all the hard work and perseverance that our staff has demonstrated over the past two years,” Bentley Smith, chief operating officer of Support Inc., said in a statement. “It is challenging to accommodate rapid growth, which for us means serving families in need across Colorado who may otherwise not receive the care they deserve, while at the same time remaining committed to our core values of collaboration, perseverance and quality care. I believe this award signifies that we have been able to do that.”

“It really is long-term care, as long as the client and the client’s family want to stay in that placement. I’ve had customers who have been with me for 20 years.”

The company’s snowballing size and scope in recent months is directly tied to a bill passed last year by the Colorado Legislature, which was targeted at chipping away at the state’s lengthy wait list for people with mental disabilities to find appropriate housing. Passed nearly unanimously, the bill set out a five-year plan for nullifying the current back log of people looking for housing.

“Colorado’s been fairly progressive about change, which is great to see,” Smith said. “You don’t see a lot of states taking things that seriously.”

Supported living, family support and supported employment spending topped $12.9 billion nationally in 2013, mainly through home and community-based Medicaid waivers, according to The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities from the University of Colorado Department of Psychology. The waivers are one of the primary mechanism states can use to pay for long-term care. Colorado saw $63.8 million in waiver spending over the same period, according to the study.

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