My goal was to find Tommy a welcoming environment that would focus on his ABILITIES, not his disability."
When Tommy was one year old, behaviors arose that indicated he may have some developmental delays. Tommy’s father, James, sought advice from health care professionals who diagnosed Tommy with a pervasive developmental delay and hyperactivity.
A diagnosis of hyperactivity carried negative connotations during the 1960s. As a child, Tommy would accidentally break windows, causing his father to be concerned about potential safety hazards. James began to actively search for an inclusive and safe environment that would provide Tommy the necessary supports to excel in life. His search led him to find Orange Grove’s Double G summer camp.
Double G camp provided the perfect opportunity for fourteen-year-old Tommy to channel his energy in positive, fun activities like swimming, arts and crafts, and sports that highlighted his exceptionally creative and bubbly personality. For the first time, Tommy was able to make friends who loved him for his unique abilities. His extravagant energy, which had previously prevented him from being actively engaged in the community, became a tool that helped him become a leader and the extraordinary individual he is today.
I brought him to camp expecting for him to make friends, but we ended up with family,”says James.
Tommy has been a part of the Orange Grove family ever since. He is known around Orange Grove as the “King of Camp” and even has the honor of giving the welcoming and closing speeches for camp each year.
While Tommy still enjoys camp, he also participates in other services that Orange Grove has to offer. After his first year of camp, he enrolled in the Children’s Services program, then moved into the Residential program and joined the Employment/Community Support programs. The Residential program provides 24-hour residential services in a group-home setting. Each house supports up to four individuals in Orange Grove homes with a house manager and support staff as needed.
Through the Employment/Community Support programs, Tommy learned how to use his skills to thrive in employment and everyday life. He now works at a recycling drop off center in Chattanooga and much enjoys his role. Tommy’s outgoing demeanor is an asset to him as he advises visitors on what products the center accepts and what needs to be taken to the refuse collection center. “He is very proud of the work he does. When he gets home, he loves to talk to his support staff and housemates about everything that happened during his shift,” says Tommy’s house manager, Kayla Bowlby.
His work ethic has carried over into his daily life. When he is not working, he keeps himself busy by sweeping his neighbors’ porches, raking leaves, and taking their trash to the curb. “When I first moved next door to Tommy’s group home, I woke up week after week on recycling day to find my recycling bin already by the curb,” recalls Tommy’s former neighbor, Dave Lang. “At first, I thought I was forgetting that I had completed this chore the night before. When I discovered that it was Tommy who weekly assists the neighborhood on recycling day, I fell in love with Orange Grove and the individuals they serve.”
James credits Orange Grove for Tommy’s success by providing him the opportunity to explore his unique abilities in a comfortable environment.