Virtual program

Anderson reaches adults with disabilities through events and a new virtual program

Anderson County is one of the few counties in the southeast to host a free day program for adults with developmental disabilities, the Rainbow Gang. It expands special needs programs beyond public schools.

There’s a long list of people in need of help these days, a new virtual program aims to connect more people with special populations, and a local contest is winding down.

Here’s a look at some of the programs and resources that are evolving during the pandemic as local organizations continue to overcome obstacles.

Along with this program, the Disability and Special Needs Commission provides more than 700 people in the community with vital resources ranging from housing to early intervention.

Reach more of the Anderson community

Every day, Kathy Schofield is in the old McCants High School building on Fant Street.

A building once bustling with children has been revamped and energized by the Rainbow Gang community.

Schofield’s office has a very overflowing calendar front and center with just enough room for all the activities and events she organizes for the group of 16 adults with special needs.

The original McCants Middle School in Anderson was built in 1935 and is now used for Anderson County offices, including Senior Citizens and the Rainbow Gang of Area 14 Special Olympics, and Meals on Wheels of Anderson.

The free day program has been around for about 35 years. It is a place of pleasure, therapy and learning.

The adults who come have close friends thanks to the inclusive group, sports to practice and leaders who contribute to their development.

Schofield goes home every day with a smile on her face because how could she have a bad day when she can have it with the gang, the seven-year-old program director said.

When COVID first hit in 2020, all daily activities had to stop and virtual programs took over. This experience showed Schofield the power of the virtual for audiences that were harder to reach even before the pandemic.

Since May they have returned to the usual routine but in February they launched the new Virtual Rainbow Gang.

This new program is made possible through the Community Development Block Grant, a federal funding source.

Five participants are already part of the virtual program hosted by Molly White. Participants receive a Google Meets code before class and their activity packets are mailed to their home.

A parent or carer is normally next to them, except for one participant who can manage it almost alone.

Other opportunities like virtual bingo will combine the Rainbow Gang with virtual members and give them more opportunities for the community.

“Anderson County is such a great county,” Schofield said. “It’s a way to bring activity and socialization to those [adults]. We can only accommodate so many here.”

Closing and opening of the chapter of You are Beautiful Pageant

Raegan Campbell McCullough used to prepare for beauty pageants when she was an events coordinator with Anderson County Special Populations.

The Rainbow Gang enjoyed every part of her pageant journey, so the Clemson grad decided to host Anderson’s first special needs pageant in 2018.

Each competitor leaves with a crown and a trophy. The unique rewards vary, such as the “Handsome Hunk” goes to the escort who represents the characteristics of a gentleman.

Fourth-year contestant Dwight Ables has his eye on the award this year and is nervous about winning it.

He’ll trim his beard for the event and wear a bow tie and sparkly shoes, part of his outfit he’s most excited for.

Dwight Ables flexes on the catwalk during the You Are Beautiful pageant, the premier special needs beauty pageant at the Civic Center in Anderson on Thursday, February 1, 2018.

As an escort, he knows how important his parade is to get all the attention on the woman he walks with.

“I learned from Reagan, basically, there’s no harm in being wrong,” he said. “It’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to be outgoing.”

More importantly, it’s okay to be different, he said.

“It’s such a refreshing experience to see these women and men walking on stage, walking their cats, watching them not caring about anyone else’s opinion of them,” said the co-owner of Freedom Fitness, Lauren Ross.

This special needs event is important for those who don’t have special needs, she said.

Reagan McCullough kisses Cierra Ruffing during the You Are Beautiful pageant supporting the Area 14 Special Olympics at the Civic Center in Anderson on Thursday February 17, 2022. The judges awarded her Miss You Area Beautiful Queen 2022 later that evening.  Organizer McCullough, a graduate of Crescent High and Clemson University, was Homecoming Queen in 2014 at Clemson before creating the event to lift the spirits of attendees and those around them.

“We do ourselves an injustice not to learn from the special needs community,” Ross said.

In 2021, Campbell McCullough moved her Freedom Fitness ceremonial business to North Carolina. That decision along with complications from COVID led her to call this year’s contest on February 17 her last.

“When you start a project from scratch, it’s easy to think of it as your child. So when you leave something like that, you may feel like you’re leaving someone you love,” he said. she declared. “I really hope it gets worn by someone else. It’s too good not to.”

Schofield is working on a team including parent volunteers who will do just that and keep going.

The contest shows that “everyone has their time to shine,” Schofield said. “Everyone walks away waiting for the next contest to take place.”

Sarah Durham smiles as she and others dance on stage after the You Are Beautiful contest supporting the Area 14 Special Olympics at the Civic Center in Anderson on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

The Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs encounters obstacles

The Anderson County Disability and Special Needs Council provides social and medical services to people with developmental disabilities and diagnosed autism.

They also provide services for people with brain and spinal cord injuries in Anderson and Oconee counties.

Funding, coupled with staffing shortages, are problems statewide when it comes to providing services, said council executive director Jerrel Lynn King.

Additionally, waiting lists for services are long, she said.

File photo from 6 years ago: Quincy Robinson (left) helps Assimina Gravvanis make a purchase from a vending machine.  Participants in the Anderson County Council for the Disabled and Special Needs Day Program learn skills such as counting money.

The council’s roster of services is nearly 700 people, she said. These people have a big impact on the community and are looking for opportunities to connect.

“There are so many people with special needs who would love the opportunity to work in real jobs in inclusive environments,” King said. “Not only are they eager to work, but they can become the best employees.”

The council works alongside the Rainbow Gang but offers different services ranging from helping people find jobs and housing to managing their cases.

“Case managers are the intermediaries in the service delivery system,” she said. “The relationship they develop with families is key to making sure everyone’s needs are catered for.”

The council strives to give the best quality of life and the best resources to people with developmental disabilities, she said.

“Every day is an opportunity to help someone reach a milestone or goal by becoming more independent.”

To volunteer with Area 14-Special Olympics or the Rainbow Gang Day Program, email [email protected]

Sarah Sheridan is a community reporter in Anderson. She would appreciate your help in telling important stories; contact her at [email protected] or on twitter @saralinasher.