Mission Project turning 10; creates a community for its members with developmental disabilities

This fall a community of adults living in Mission will celebrate a milestone. The Mission Project will turn 10 years old.

Sarah Mai, the Mission Project's first executive director.
Sarah Mai, the Mission Project’s first executive director.

Started by a group of parents, the project’s participants are adults, all living on their own. The members of the project have developmental or cognitive disabilities, but they lead independent lives.

The project hit another milestone this summer when Sarah Mai became the its first executive director and its only full-time employee. The Mission Project gets no funding through the state and it is not a service provider. Its members go through agencies such as Johnson County Developmental Supports for traditional services.

“We want to be a community rather than a service provider,” Mai says. Members live in their own apartments in an apartment complex within easy walking distance of the Sylvester Powell Community Center, Hy-Vee grocery, Johnson Drive businesses and the police station. “Mission is a great walking community,” Mai says, which means the members are “truly living independently in the community.”

An important part of the program is transportation. Each member is employed or has a volunteer position. The project has vans and part-time drivers to get members to work or other destinations. The project also has a full calendar of social activities and an emphasis on healthy lifestyles that includes working out – one reason Sylvester Powell is so important – and eating well. The MP Explorers, a walking club for members, is one result of that focus.

Seven years ago, working as as a part-time consultant, Mai started a “problem solvers” program that helps members work on social skills and conflict resolution. It also has helped them find common interests that they can share as friends. It also teaches how to take leadership, be together and host events. Another program has given members iPads through a grant that they can use as a tool for daily life.

Mai divides her time between programming, including teaching classes, and administrative duties, including fundraising. “It is a dignified way of life,” Mai says, of what the Mission Project provides.

The project has active parent volunteers and is guided by a board. Each family has a succession plan, Mai says, so the member can stay in the project. Looking to the future means focusing on sustainability and getting more involvement from the community, she says.

Friday: How the Mission Project changed life for one member.