Organizations: The Next Stop Foundation
While working with children within the special-needs community, Vicki LaRoche kept returning to a central question: Where do they go when the school bus stops coming?
“By 22, individuals have aged out of the school system, and when those services end, opportunities for friendships in a supportive, stimulating environment outside of their homes is limited, if it exists at all – too often these young adults end up staying home and watching television, feeling isolated and unproductive and spiraling into depression,” she says.
So, in 2006 LaRoche and her husband, Stu, launched The Next Stop Foundation to provide a place where developmentally challenged adults can enjoy social, recreational and learning opportunities with their peers. The group meets three afternoons a week in the Suwanee Sports Academy in Gwinnett County to play kickball and other games, make arts and crafts, and just hang out – “to laugh, learn and shine” is the motto.
“We cook and follow different recipes, which is a highlight of the day because eating what they prepare fosters pride of ownership,” LaRoche says. “Some days we have therapy dogs here; some days we play ‘Wheel of Fortune’ or take a nature walk or do a science activity. We make sure we ‘move,’ as in exercise, each day.”
With a team of volunteers and occupational therapists, the organization has served more than 80 adults with Down Syndrome, mild autism and other cognitive issues. “Our objective is to support personal growth in the areas of self-confidence, social skills, maturity and practical abilities,” LaRoche says, “but, also, The Next Stop gives members a place they can truly call their own, where they can be themselves.”