Young adults with disabilities succeeding in life thanks to Kansas non-profit

MISSION, Kan. - A Kansas-based non-profit organization is helping young adults with disabilities lead independent and successful lives.

The Mission Project began back in 2004 and for the last seven years, has been helping young adults find jobs and apartments.  It helps its members with transportation to get to and from work and their social activities.

Ellen Dirnberger, 34, was born with Down Syndrome and is currently one of 18 members at the Mission Project.

"Being in the Mission Project, I gain a lot of support from my family and from our members," said Ellen, sitting in her own apartment.

Ellen has been living in her own apartment for the last several years.  She's also held a job for more than a decade. 

"We didn't dare to dream of something as good as the Mission Project when she was a baby," said her mom, Nancy Dirnberger.

Currently, Ellen works part-time at the Panera at 87th and Lackman Road in Lenexa, Kan. She also works at a law office in downtown Kansas City, making copies, scanning documents and removing staples.

"I've been growing up so much and I'm very happy to have a nice family," she said.

Ellen said she has dreams for herself and she feels like she's achieving them with help from The Mission Project.  Her parents see the change, in her friendships, her packed social calendar and her ability to make her own choices.

"It's beyond our expectations without a doubt," said her father, George Dirnberger. "She is independent. She completely decides what she wants to do. These are all her decisions.  We're not telling her what to do."

That is the point of The Mission Project, said Bob Randall, president of the board of directors.

"Like anybody else, the young adults that are our children, once they get out of high school it's like where do we go from here," Randall said.

His daughter Kelly, 27, has autism and is not letting that hold her back.  Kelly lives in her own place.

"I thought it was really important to move out of my parent's house and live on my own," said Kelly.

She also has a job, working at Children's Mercy Hospital where she was recently recognized for her hard work and commitment.

"I think the Mission Project is a great way to really improve on your life," Kelly said. "I think I have pretty accomplished most of my goals."

Randall said the key to success for these young individuals is to gain independence.

"We as parents over-shelter kids that stay at home, particularly if they have a disability," said Randall. "We tend to over-shelter them and do things for them that they're capable of doing. We need to enable that so they can live independence lives for the rest of their lives."

Ellen's parents agree, saying Ellen wanted and needed to have her own life.

"The opportunity that The Mission Project provides with all the different activities, if you look at her calendar, 3/4 of those days are filled with activities so she just has immense opportunities that were never there living at home," said George Dirnberger.

The Mission Project helps her nurture her friendships, which Ellen says are very important to her.

"I like to be a part of the Mission Project family and they're very special to me and I'm very happy that I'm here,"

The Mission Project currently is concentrated in Mission, Kan.  But Randall said the Board of Directors is looking to expand and start other groups across the Kansas City metro.

On Dec. 9, 2011, The Texas Tenors, finalists on America's Got Talent, is joining the Kansas City Symphony for a holiday concert to benefit The Mission Project.

For more information on the concert, The Mission Project and how you can help, or start an organization in your area, visit www.themissionproject.org

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