Cindy Carpenter was faced with a challenge 10 years ago. Her daughter, Cortney, was getting ready to “age out” of special education in the public school system. Cortney was born with a neurologically based disability that has no specific diagnosis. “The government will educate you up until the age of 22, then at that point they ‘train you’ if you are disabled and need further assistance,” says Cindy. Cortney was 21, so Cindy began the search for an adult day program for her.
But as Cindy started to visit these programs and see what they offered, she became disheartened. Cindy, her husband Jim and daughter Chelsea had always taken Cortney with them traveling, to a basketball game, out to dinner, to a party – wherever they went, Cortney went, too. As she visited state-funded programs, she realized an “outing” may be going to the mall to walk around then spending the rest of the time just sitting around.
“I knew I wanted more for Cortney and I knew I wanted to raise the bar for all adults with disabilities,” says Cindy. “Something more stimulating, something more meaningful, something more exciting that what I was seeing.”
Then one day, Cindy’s good friend, Benée Hilton-Spiegel, happened to call while Cindy was out visiting more programs. As soon as Benée asked her what she was doing, Cindy burst into tears. Benée said, “I don’t understand. What’s the matter?” When Cindy explained what she had seen and what was available for Cortney, Benée suggested, “Why don’t you start your own program?” Cindy replied, “Absolutely not!” She already tried to set up an early-intervention program when Cortney was 3.
She told Benée that state programs were underfunded, so it was hard to have a nice location and include activities, too. When Benée pointed out that it was simply the cost of rent, Cindy had to agree. Benée reached out to someone in the Jewish community, who offered space near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale at a reduced rate.
Cindy was thrilled and thought, “What’s my excuse now?” One thing led to the next and before you knew it, the women were opening Cortney’s Place.
Cindy wanted the program to include outings for the special needs students: restaurants, the circus, the Arizona Science Center. “So I came up with this model of what Cortney could continue doing based on her life,” says Cindy. They held fundraisers and started raising money and connecting with everyone they knew. She put Benée on the board of directors. “Because I have a marketing background, my brain says sell the product, [then] figure out how you’re going to fulfill the order,” says Cindy. “That was how we did things.”
Currently, the program serves about 32 students who pay nothing to participate. Cortney’s Place is receiving less state funding today than when it was founded 10 years go. “Other agencies have to cut out programs when the funding isn’t raised. All [the board and I] say is that we have to raise more money. We have to figure it out a different way,” says Cindy.
Cindy is proud of her “killer board. We’ve got extremely passionate people who come from different walks of life and different experiences,” she says. “They have done incredible things to raise the bar for adults with disabilities.”
The goal is to continue to expand and duplicate the program. But the biggest concern on the minds of the families at Cortney’s Place is who is going to care for their children as they get older. “We have four students who are cared for by their siblings,” says Cindy. “That’s not fair.”
The hope of building a residential facility is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the laws do not allow what Cindy and the board are envisioning. Years ago, laws were put in place to avoid the building of “institutions.” People with disabilities can live in group homes, but they must be located in neighborhoods integrated with “typical” people.
What Cindy has in mind (and what parents want, too) is a campus akin to a senior community, where the students can live, attend day programs and enjoy other activities like horse therapy or swimming. Residents could be around their friends instead of in group homes across town from one another.
Cindy and other board members have been meeting with legislators and senators to try and change the law. “Those are some of the things we are dealing with,” says Cindy. “Give me a parcel of land and then we will figure it out.”
This has become Cindy’s mission in life: donated land to begin the process. “We’ve got the day program figured out and [we have support in] the medical community; now we have to work on the residential piece of things,” says Cindy. “It’s our growth and future. This population is not going away. Now they can save babies younger and younger who are born sicker and sicker. They will survive and grow up and have special needs.”
Contact Cindy at 602-363-0500 or visit cortneysplace.org.
2017 Fashion Event: “A Fresh New Way”
Saturday, April 6; 10 am-2 pm
JW Marriott Camelback Inn, 5402
E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley
Shopping boutiques, fashion event and luncheon
Proceeds benefit Cortney’s Place