By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — As the Catholic Church and the Fort Wayne community at large work to serve those with physical and other disabilities, a unique mission is taking place with just that work in mind. Turnstone, a nonprofit organization, provides a comprehensive network of services for people with disabilities. What makes this agency unique anywhere across the U.S., is that it “fundamentally provides services from cradle to grave,” said Turnstone CEO Mike Mushett. Turnstone, established in 1943 by a group of parents of children unable to attend area schools due to their disabilities, currently provides an Early Learning Center with an integrated day care education program that helps children with and without disabilities develop skill sets and interpersonal skills needed to adjust to kindergarten. The facility also provides an adult day program now serving approximately 90 individuals five days a week that offers a combination of social, recreational and respite activities.
Turnstone offers speech, physical, occupational and aquatic therapies and both the early learning and adult programs provide individuals with the opportunity to receive any therapies needed. Turnstone also provides a team of pediatric and adult social workers who ensure each individual receives the services they need. Support groups, including one for parents, Parkinson’s sufferers and amputee walking schools, are also part of the services there. “It’s a holistic approach,” said Mushett, “to both the individual with the disability, but just as importantly their family as well.”
The Plassman Athletic Center, a newly constructed $14 million 125,000 square foot athletic facility was opened on Sept. 15, 2015, and includes a health and wellness fitness center with meeting rooms and all equipment accessible to all disabilities, designed with space between the equipment to allow for wheelchair mobility. A large warm water aquatic therapy pool, 230-meter running track, group fitness rooms and NCAA dimension basketball courts are also highlights of the facility.
Turnstone sponsors seven competitive sports teams including three wheelchair basketball teams, two power soccer teams, and sled hockey. It has hosted countless basketball and sled hockey tournaments and will host the power soccer national championship in June.
Mushett who has overseen the facility for over a year said, “I am amazed everyday with the things that I see and experience. We are very blessed that it’s a very mission-driven organization. We are providing our educational and therapy health and wellness and sport and recreation programs to empower people with disabilities. The people that work here are really focused on that as a mission and it’s a very committed staff.”
Along with that dedicated staff Turnstone is dependent on volunteer assistance for most of its programs as well. Many volunteers serve from Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger high schools. Bishop Luers Key Club has volunteered for Turnstone’s golf outing for over 20 years and Bishop Dwenger’s students serve to fulfill service requirements as well. “We know that we can call on the athletic teams if we need some muscle to move equipment or set up for events,” said Mushett.
St. Charles Borromeo School fourth graders have long supported Turnstone with their annual read-a-thon that raises funds for the facility. Over the past 18 years, the students have raised over $45,000 for Turnstone. “It’s a joy to work with St. Charles,” noted Mushett, adding that the fourth-grade students are invited each year to Turnstone to experience wheelchair basketball and other activities for the disabled. Current fourth-grade teacher Rita Sordelet said, “We tour Turnstone where they incorporate lessons about people with disabilities. They get hands-on experience and it’s very enlightening. … We’ve seen it progress from a small facility to this big facility that offers so much more through donations.” Sordelet added that the students are excited each year to know that the money they raise goes to purchase specific equipment such as wheelchairs designed for playing basketball. “This is close to their hearts,” noted Sordelet.
Mushett noted too that St. Vincent de Paul Society has been a regular contributor to Turnstone providing cash, equipment and supply donations over the years.
In 2015, Turnstone served over 2,000 unique individuals with varying abilities and does not turn anyone away due to inability to pay. “Ninety-five percent of our clients require reduced fees and we work with them to afford the services. … It’s part of our mission,” said Mushett. He noted that the individuals served have positive attitudes and focus on their strengths. “It’s an environment where they can be themselves — where they can be with their peers and we really focus on helping them develop the skill sets and the strengths that allow them to function as independently as possible,” said Mushett.
Recently Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was invited to visit this unique facility. “I knew that he was someone that we wanted to invite to Turnstone. I’d heard a lot about his ministry and interest in providing services to people with disabilities,” noted Mushett. Bishop Rhoades toured the facility on Jan. 7 and said, “I was happy to visit Turnstone and see their services for persons with disabilities. The athletic, educational and other programs are really excellent. I was happy to learn that students in some of our schools volunteer there. I think it is a very important outreach and a great opportunity for us to support our brothers and sisters with disabilities from whom we also can learn so much.”
Serving the people with disabilities in the Fort Wayne area has been a privilege for the administration and staff of Turnstone. Mushett’s final message? “A lot of people with disabilities in the community still don’t know that we’re here or what type of services we provide. We know there are many, many more individuals with disabilities in the community that we could be providing services to. … It’s a great opportunity and environment to get the needed services, develop friendships and social networks for people with disabilities.”
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