Coming Home to RHD DeFuniak Springs
March 10, 2023
As soon as one enters RHD’s DeFuniak Springs program, an immediate familiar feeling of “home” can be felt. From the pieces of artwork created by program participants hung on the walls, to each room representing a different aspect of this programs’ personality through plants, knick-knacks, and other collectibles, it can easily be said this program is different. When talking to DeFuniak Springs staff and program participants, one word kept surfacing – “family.” This word is not taken lightly and can be seen in how everyone interacts with each other. Every staff member goes to great lengths for the participants, including program directors, Sandra Spann and Sandy Weimorts. It is not rare to see one of the staff sitting at a hospital bedside while one of their participants fights cancer, or at the courthouse advocating on behalf of a participant’s rights. They work around the clock to ensure everyone has what they need and are safe.
RHD DeFuniak Springs, established in 1998 as a day program for individuals with intellectual disabilities, recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, and believe it or not, some participants that have received support and services since the doors opened are still there! Kim, one participant who has attended the program for the past 23 years, still gets excited to come in every day to work with staff on craft and art projects, while learning life skills that instill independence and responsibility. Teaching these skills in 1998 wasn’t common practice as many didn’t believe it was possible for individuals with intellectual disabilities to learn them. But Sandra and Sandy remained steadfast in their resolve, and the payoff can be seen in each of their participants today.
RHD DeFuniak Springs expanded a few years later to include a supported living model where they could offer homes to some of their more independent participants. Kim lives in one of these supported homes with two other women with intellectual disabilities. They each have their own living rooms and bedroom and share a kitchen and bathrooms with the other residents. The entire DeFuniak Springs staff alternates spending evenings with them until 9:00 p.m. Their dedication, though, does not go unnoticed. Kim explained, “if it weren’t for Sandra and Sandy, we would not have a program today. I don’t know where I’d be without all of their help.” Kim credits the staff for everything she has today, including her home, independence, and boyfriend, Hutch. Kim met Hutch when he came to the program a year after she did, and they have been sweethearts ever since.
To celebrate RHD DeFuniak Springs’ 25th anniversary, the staff organized an incredible celebration, complete with a DJ and photo booth. They rented out the community center, adorning the walls with photos and artwork created by participants over the last 25 years. Every program participant wore formal attire, and some of the women had their hair, nails, and make-up professionally done. Among the decorated walls was a tribute wall where attendees could reflect and share stories about staff and participants who have passed away. The tables and chairs were dressed in beautiful linens, including sparkly and glamorous centerpieces. Sandra and Sandy presented awards to program staff and participants, and the mayor of DeFuniak Springs attended to proclaim February as the official month to celebrate RHD and how this program in DeFuniak Springs has enriched the community.
As the staff and participants look ahead to the next 25 years, they hope to expand their facility so that additional individuals can participate in its enriching activities and more participants can move into their supported living model. This can only be possible through securing more funding as their current structure and staff can’t support an expansion of any kind. To learn more about RHD DeFuniak Springs and support their mission, visit: www.rhd.org/program/rhd-defuniak-springs