“RHD saved our family”

Billy is autistic and nonverbal, and his behaviors can be very challenging. His parents, Dianne and Bill, went through a number of different providers before coming to RHD.

“RHD saved our family,” Dianne said.

“We were at the end of our rope,” Bill said. “RHD stepped in at a very difficult time and picked up the load. It was a big weight off our shoulders, that we knew he was somewhere that was safe and looking out for him.”

Most important, they said, is the support the family has gotten at RHD.

“Last year Billy suffered a severe seizure and ended up in intensive care on a ventilator, and we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not,” Dianne said. “And one by one, all of his staff showed up. They all came and stayed with us, just quietly hung out and kept vigil. We just realized we had this army for Billy, this army of loving caregivers.”

With support from staff at RHD’s Valiant Studios, a creative arts day program in Omaha, Billy now creates art that he’s sold at local shows — much to the delight of his family, many of whom are artists as well.

“I keep chiding my family — Billy has been the most successful artist of the bunch,” Bill said. “Everybody is amazed at what he does. I can’t emphasize how much his mood had changed; you see the joyfulness back.”

At Valiant Studios, the staff introduced Billy to music classes, theater class and painting to see where his interests might lie. When Billy walks around the studio, every staff member reaches out for a high five. “At our studio, every 10 steps, it’s a different environment,” said studio director Jason Ackland. “He’s constantly changing his environment.”

RHD Nebraska is home to two of RHD’s creative art-based day programs: Live Yes Studios in Lincoln, and Valiant Studios. RHD creative arts studios broaden the horizons of people with intellectual disabilities and offer them the tools to define themselves as artists.

In these programs, RHD staff works to create an environment where people are safe and cared for, but also engaged and energized. At RHD, people can take ownership of their work and their place in the community while being celebrated for their own unique style of outsider art.

“We teach every kind of art that you can think of — pottery, oil painting, acrylic painting, woodworking, sculpture — and the vast majority of our staff has degrees in art,” said Craig Casados, director of RHD’s Live Yes Studio. “We open up people’s eyes to what’s possible, to see the beauty in the world around them and in themselves — and how they can show that to other people through shows or in galleries, where they can be successful, earn income and be a thriving part of their community.

“It’s not just our staff coming up with classes and things to teach — it’s sitting down with the clients and saying: What do you want to learn? And how can we help you?”

The work of RHD Nebraska artists is featured in local and national shows and galleries, where they earn income through the sale of their work and gain an outlet for creativity and self-expression through visual arts, music, and community involvement.

“When we first heard about a day program that emphasized art and music, I thought: That sounds wonderful and amazing, but I don’t see how it would fit Billy,” Dianne said. “But it’s been such an incredible blessing. We’ve been amazed and pleasantly surprised at what RHD and Valiant has been able to do with him.

“Billy isn’t verbal, but we can tell how he feels, and we can see that things are going well. We can tell that he likes being there.”

“We’ll always be thankful for RHD, and mainly the people who are part of RHD and Valiant Studios and their willingness to make a place for Billy that meets his needs,” Bill said. “It’s the people here; they’re special.”