Southeastern Social Care Collective

Who We Are

The Southeastern Social Care Collective is a nonprofit organization that brings together members of the community to nurture and sustain innovations in therapeutic intervention, employment, spiritual engagement, meaningful activity, and community connection for individuals who are living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Inspired by our experiences as parents, professionals, and friends walking through the world alongside loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we recognize the need for taking a more creative and innovative approach to programming and community supported opportunity over those that currently exist in the traditional social service delivery systems. We desire to build spaces that celebrate everyone’s unique individuality and approach to the human experience, and are devoted to engaging in work and fostering initiatives that promote intentional social integration and encourage friendships based on authentic connection and mutual respect.

Our Vision

We believe in a world where everyone is welcomed into the daily economy of purposeful work and community.

Our Mission

The Southeastern Social Care Collective is determined to...

  • work to organize and support innovating and sustaining a socially integrated, community-based network of groups who are passionate about the innate dignity and purpose of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • create replicable models to nurture similar movements of social care in communities beyond our own.
  • promote positive visibility of vulnerable and marginalized populations.
  • establish and expand a collective of individuals and organizations engaged in work that amplifies the hope and promise of social care.

Our Beginning

 The Southeastern Social Care Collective is a nonprofit organization created in tandem with The Nest at 54 West to organize and operate programs that draw upon local cultural themes and resources to develop innovative initiatives that will increase opportunity and positive visibility for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in a multitude of capacities.

 The Nest at 54 West is a parent-owned  land-holding company that purchased a 20-acre property on Highway 54 in Orange County, NC with the idea of creating a campus where community members with and without disabilities can gather together and feel a sense of acceptance, belonging, and purpose.

The idea that sparked this initiative is centered around a vision to build a training program that would use the framework of a renaissance faire to develop a project-based curriculum to enhance the skills of and support individuals who are working in the field of direct support. 

Our “Why”

Adults with I/DD often find that life after high school offers few opportunities to experience and pursue meaningful social and vocational growth. A key contributing factor is the lack of highly trained, valued, and compensated Direct Support Providers (DSPs). DSPs are professionals who work with individuals diagnosed with I/DD. They are required to provide a wide range of services such as habilitation, health needs, personal care and hygiene, transportation, employment support, housekeeping, recreation, and other life-management tasks that offer a way for individuals with I/DD to live their lives with a sense of agency and empowerment (Laws, 2019). Without a qualified direct support workforce, home and community-based service options for individuals with I/DD could not exist. 

Despite being tasked with providing life changing support to individuals with I/DD, DSPs are not required to have advanced qualifications, education, or training that is commensurate or respectful of all that they are asked to do for the people that require their support (Larson & Hewitt, 2012).

The number of qualified and competent DSPs in the workforce is decreasing by alarming degrees each year. According to the 2018 National Core Indicators Staff Stability Survey Report, the national turnover rate for DSPs leaving the field of direct support is 45.5%; 56% leave their place of employment within a year, and 35% do so within the first six months of their hire. Among the key reasons stated for leaving the field were insufficient training and professional acknowledgement, insufficient supervision, and isolation from peers (Toledo, 2021).

DSPs consistently report that their training does not prepare them for their job responsibilities. The current service settings are community and home environments; within these settings there is not consistent access to a supervisor and the majority of training provided is overarching and generic, not individualized or person-centered (Technical Assistance Collaborative, 2017). The 2016 Medisked Provider study reported that 42% of DSPs leave their jobs as a result of the lack of supervisory support and adequate training. Feelings of not knowing what to do or how to be successful, and lack of feedback and ongoing training that can meaningfully impact one’s professional abilities, have been found to lead to poor morale and job satisfaction and decreased motivation (Flynn, et al. 2020). 

Our Process

Using project-based education as the foundation for developing a training curriculum, and based on informal community assessments that identified local business, food, art, theater, social justice, environmental preservation, outdoor recreation, and music as cultural themes important to local community members, the Social Care Collective’s signature program will center around the theme of developing an interactive community Renaissance Faire. 

The Renaissance Faire Project team of the Social Care Collective will work with community educators and specialists to develop a comprehensive curriculum, after which the program will launch by accepting a small cohort of five trainees in January of 2025. Trainees will work alongside individuals with I/DD, volunteers, program instructors, students, and behavioral specialists using the construction of a Renaissance faire as a project-based learning framework.

Individuals with I/DD who participate in the program must be recipients of the Innovations Waiver and will need to have Specialized Consultative Services (SCS) authorized in their Plan of Care.

Group workshops and classes in theater, cooking, music, hospitality, groundskeeping, marketing, costume design and construction will be led by local instructors, with a SCS provider in the role as “translator” to assist DSPs in understanding how to use specific projects to address person-centered goals for the individual they support, as well as to help problem-solve barriers to progress or behavioral challenges that happen in real time. The group will work together to build the fair through the month of September.

The fair will go live to the public during the weekends in October and serve as the “final exam” for DSPs who wish to obtain a certificate of completion, which we intend to evolve into an industry credential. Until the State of North Carolina authorizes a competency-based add-on to the current DSP wage, a certificate of completion will qualify the DSP for a one-time bonus and the opportunity to have their name added to a directory of exceptionally trained providers. As SCS is an ongoing service for waiver participants; program graduates are encouraged to engage in bi-weekly follow up with the SCS provider for the first six months after training, and then monthly, for the duration of their employment.

In addition to providing comprehensive training and supplying the DSP with a “toolkit” of behavioral resources, the project-based model will also create an environment within which to develop rapport and foster social connection with participants, thus providing individuals with I/DD the opportunity to have increased choice in their selection of support workers because they will have the chance to meet and “work together” prior to committing to a more permanent support relationship.

This training experience will also identify those for whom the work of direct support is not a good fit. 

How is the Social Care Collective connected to Blawesome?

The Renaissance Faire Project is based on the proof of concept by Blawesome, a flower farm and design studio in Chapel Hill owned and co-operated by Raimee Sorensen, a young man with autism spectrum disorder. Blawesome provides a vehicle for Raimee to experience a purpose-driven and meaningful life through the work of farming.

Blawesome has a unique partnership with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helped evaluate Raimee’s abilities to successfully participate in the daily operations of a flower farm, the Arc of the Triangle, which agreed to support Raimee by recruiting and hiring farmers to provide direct support, and the Center for Environmental Studies at Elon University, whose students volunteered to design and build a barn for Raimee as part of a responsible design/build lab.

Blawesome has become a thriving small business with four, full-time employees and four, part-time staff. Raimee’s support team has been farming with him for over five years. The farm has a three-season, 100-member flower subscription program, which Raimee delivers weekly using a van purchased with money raised in a crowd-funding campaign. He no longer takes anti-anxiety medication and has had only one seizure since Blawesome began operating in the spring of 2016. The collective approach that helps Raimee achieve vocational success and happiness continues to flourish and Rebecca (Raimee’s mom) and her colleagues at the Nest would like to expand on the work by creating a replicable, sustainable program that will support a greater number of North Carolinians with I/DD.

We also believe that the development of this annual interactive community festival at the end of each training period serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides the common goal for determining how to organize project-based teaching  for the    duration of the training program.
  • It provides a vehicle for involving the larger community.
  • It builds bridges to connect local businesses to individuals with I/DD seeking employment.
  • It provides a venue for generating funds to sustain the program.
Blawesome embraces the philosophy that our flourishing is deeply intertwined and dependent on others flourishing. We need each other and are so much better together. One way to decrease barriers to opportunity and change harmful stereotypes about what it means to live and work with a disability is to establish positive models that are interactive and relevant to the local culture. Based on the success of Blawesome, and the tremendous amount of support the business has received from the communities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham, it seems likely that the same, if not more, support would be directed towards a similar project aimed at increasing quality of life outcomes for an even greater number of adults with I/DD. We hypothesize that members in the surrounding community will embrace the opportunity to take an active supporting role in the training of individuals who are pursuing a career as a DSP. We also expect that this type of training model will decrease fears and elevate the way the DSP profession is perceived by the larger public.