News Article Details

Puzzle Pieces to host open house at new facility, prepares for Owen Autism Center

Messenger-Inquirer - 2/4/2020

Feb. 4--Puzzle Pieces will host a community open house next week, giving the public its first peek at the nonprofit's new campus and Owen Autism Center.

The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m.Feb. 11 at Puzzle Pieces, 2401 New Hartford Road. The nonprofit relocated all its divisions under one roof late last year.

In August 2019, Amanda Owen, Puzzle Pieces' founder and executive director, announced the move and her plans to develop the Owen Autism Center, which is expected to open in April.

Presently, Puzzle Pieces serves people with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older.

The autism center will offer a whole-life approach.

"The Owen Autism Center, as a whole, will be the only regional service provider targeting autism from 18 months to adult life," Owen said.

One of the center's key elements is an inclusive early intervention program for children 18 months to 5 years old. Inclusive programs are open to children of all abilities.

The program will offer a social skills curriculum and kindergarten readiness development.

The Owen Autism Center's early intervention program will operate as a pilot with 20 children during its first six months. The licensed day care facility will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

After the pilot period ends, the program will serve up to 40 children. A diagnosis of autism is not necessary for enrollment in the early intervention program.

The Owen Autism Center also will offer an after-school and summer program for children ages 6 years old to high school seniors. It will require a diagnosis of autism.

The after-school and summer program will provide social skills programming, vocational training and small group instruction. For older students, it will focus on the transition to jobs and college.

It, too, will start as a pilot program for 20 individuals during its first six months. Gradually, over a year's time, Owen hopes the program expands to serve about 80 clients.

Prices to attend the Owen Autism Center will vary widely. For example, the program will offer the option of part- and full-time care. Weekly fees will depend on the child's age, needs and level of care provided.

Wendell Foster temporarily closed its autism program in March 2019. The nonprofit's then-CEO Eric Scharf said the program failed to meet Wendell Foster's mission and standards of excellence. The program needed an overhaul, Scharf told its patrons.

Scharf no longer works at Wendell Foster. The nonprofit is searching for a new CEO, so the program remains in limbo.

Owen said Wendell Foster's decision to shutter its program prompted her to develop the Owen Autism Center. An autism program wasn't in Puzzle Pieces' growth plan at the time, she said, but Owen wanted to fill a community need.

Although Puzzle Pieces' autism center won't open for months, the public's response has been tremendous. On average, about three families a week call to inquire about enrollment in the upcoming program.

One parent from Las Vegas, Nevada, contacted Owen recently and plans to make a trip to Owensboro to see the new center. The woman has two children diagnosed with autism. She lost her job due to difficulties involved with finding adequate care in Las Vegas.

Until she arrives for her visit, the woman has asked to be placed on the center's waiting list.

It wouldn't be the first time a family has moved to Owensboro because of Puzzle Pieces, Owen said. A mother and her son once moved from Michigan in order to access the nonprofit's services.

It can be extremely difficult to find services for children with special needs, Owen said. It comes as no surprise to her that adequate support for special needs is a top priority for affected families.

Owen is eager for next week's community open house.

The public will be able to view the Puzzle Pieces' divisions, movie theater, recreation center and autism center. Tour guides and brochures will be available.

"This campus has been our Walt Disney World," Owen said. "We're excited to share that with the community."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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(c)2020 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

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