“We give a sense of purpose, self-esteem, a feeling of importance and all of our services are focused on that,” said president and CEO of Options Inc., Sylvia Bush.
According to Bush, Options is a non-profit organization in Hammond and their mission is to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live and work in the community.
Bush said that Options was originally associated with the Tangipahoa Association of Retarded Citizens (TARC) program that was developed by parents who wanted a better life for their children in 1973. Bush said that the founder of Options is Mary Parasko and her goal was to create a sustainable life for her son who has profound disabilities and she succeeded.
For Bush, becoming involved in the disabled community was personal for her. She said, “When I was in second grade, there was a boy in my class named Michael who sat on the bench during recess. I asked my mother why Michael sat on the bench and she explained that he had a disability that made it impossible for him to go out on the playground with other children. I was drawn to my classmate and decided to sit with him during recess.”
Bush explained that she feels that she has a deep connection to the parents of the children with disabilities and she feels that it is part of the passion of the organization. Bush said, “As I reflect back on the time I spent with Michael, I know he greatly influenced the way I looked at the world and especially the world for someone with a disability.”
Carrie Mercke, chief program officer of Options, said, “Every day I see the impact that we are having on people’s lives.” Mercke listed examples of the many programs that Options has to offer to their clients such as working in the gardening center, the second hand store, the cleaning crew and they even provide an enrichment program that allows the disabled clients to go work out and enjoy a normal life.
Dana Maltese, employee of Options and has an Autistic son that is enrolled in Option’s enrichment program, said, “This job gives back in so many ways and is so rewarding. It really helps that I am able to see my son continue to progress through the work that Options provides.”
Mercke said, “I hire people at all levels. The main thing that I look for is a positive attitude, someone who truly wants to be there and cares.” She said it does not matter what qualifications someone has if they do not have the right attitude to be there.”
According to Mercke, Options receives about 80 percent of their funding through the government and they also strive to achieve grants. However, Mercke said that Options’ biggest fundraiser is their annual, invitational ‘Be the Key Breakfast’ to explain the work that Options does for the community. Mercke said, “It is a sustainable fundraising model where we are asking people for multi-year pledges.” She said that the base line pledge is $1000 per year for five years.
Bush said, “People don’t donate because of Sylvia Bush, they are going to donate because they want to help somebody. They are going to want to donate because they know that Options is doing something positive and meaningful for a person that they know.”
Mercke and Bush both said that if Options acquired more funding then they would definitely raise wages for their staff. Mercke said, “We have some of the hardest working people. These are some of the most demanding jobs both physically and emotionally. They work so hard and they are under paid.”
According to Maltese, Options does everything to offer as much assistance that they can give to the disabled community and they hope that they can continue to make milestones with their program. She said, “Options has not only touched my son’s life, but the life of my family as well. They have given my son a chance to live his life in the best way he can and they redefined what it means to have a disability.”
Mercke said, “The one thing that is consistent at Options is that you go in everyday and you know you are making a difference for somebody and their family.”