The goal of Rivershore Inc. is to support people who live with developmental disabilities as they pursue and achieve a meaningful life. On Wednesday, the Lewiston-based agency will be honored for its own meaningful achievements, accomplishments that have enabled individuals with developmental disabilities to live fuller, richer lives for the past 30 years.
The Rivershore Foundation will honor the work of Rivershore's staff with a celebratory anniversary dinner at the Niagara Falls Country Club at 5 p.m. on Sept. 29. The keynote speaker/entertainer is Sujeet Desai, an international artist who has overcome Down syndrome.
"Sujeet is an inspiration to all people," Rivershore Executive Director Jeff Sanderson says. "Although he has Down syndrome, he has accomplished remarkable things."
Also that night, those attending the dinner will hear more about Rivershore's plans to build a new central office location in 2011 on Witmer Road, just down the street from Niagara University.
"We are working toward a vision, which will enable us to better support the success of people with developmental disabilities in our community," Sanderson says. "In order to do this, we need to establish a more accessible place to carry out the work of the agency. We need an environment that is suited to our purpose; an environment that is universally accessible to all people; and an environment that can be geographically accessed by all people in order that they can fully benefit -- and in order that our community can fully benefit -- from the efforts of Rivershore.
"Our goal is to achieve full inclusion for people with developmental disabilities, and a new environment -- a new, fully accessible environment -- will support us in achieving that goal."
Rivershore Inc. was formed in 1980 in a move by the state to increase the level of care for people in the River Region living with a developmental disability. What began as a one-house operation in the Town of Porter is now a comprehensive network of consumer care. Rivershore currently employs 150 people who provide services to 175 individuals across 13 locations throughout Niagara County.
"It was a small, kind of mom and pop operation for quite a while," Sanderson says. "It was really a gradual process whereby, through first the formalizing of that initial location and then the addition of locations one by one, as time went along, that the agency became increasingly sophisticated. And this is really a combination of the organization's own desire to reach out and serve more people in need, combined with a larger effort on the part of the state of New York to define and regulate the nature of what was wanted, in terms of addressing the needs of people with developmental disabilities."
As Rivershore entered its second decade, a number of new services were added -- including case management (service coordination) -- which Sanderson says, "expanded the number of people Rivershore was able to help and support, (and) it also enabled people to have increasing numbers of options about how they lived."
In 2002, Rivershore was named a COMPASS agency by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. Among New York's 750-plus not-for-profit organizations serving the developmentally disabled, only seven (less than 1 percent), qualify for COMPASS and self-regulatory status.
Rivershore began its move toward COMPASS eligibility in 1994. The agency used a methodical approach to review and strengthen its pieces. A quality management plan was created and enacted on "the idea that the person receiving the service is the most important person involved in the service," Sanderson says. "Their opinion about the quality of the service they're receiving is far and away the most important opinion."
The agency's stakeholders -- its people, employees, board members and the community as a whole -- were invited to have a significant voice in the decision-making process.
"We are a human service organization," Sanderson says. "We accomplish what we do by people helping people."
2002 was also the year Rivershore's self-advocacy group formed. With Richard Hermanson at the helm first, and then James Hughes, this dedicated team of volunteers works to better the community. For their efforts, the group has collected two state and two regional awards for excellence.
Rivershore donated space within its main headquarters for the self-advocacy center. The self-advocacy office is a place where the agency's individuals can use an assortment of technologies, including a computer, as well as reference and training materials.
Christine Sirianni, a member of the Rivershore board, says the organization has become the self-advocacy leader in Niagara County. The agency strives to "give people a voice and a choice," she says.
Sirianni's daughter, Andrea, receives program coordination through Rivershore.
"I think they are the top-notch quality agency," Sirianni says.
Today, Rivershore is dedicated to enabling each person it serves to be the director of his or her own life, and to develop individualized life goals. To that end, Rivershore, as a person-centered organization, is proud to offer day services, employment services, and an increased level of in-home service and support.
"We continue to expand the range of areas of life that we're helping people with disabilities (discover)," Sanderson says.
For more information on Rivershore, visit its website.