Higher Enrollment, Greater Diversity Aids 100-year-Transformation of Providence Place

DSC_0391When it was first established in 1895, the adoption agency, Providence Place, served unwed mothers and orphans at a time when they were excluded from social networks of support. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded its programs to help a variety of underserved social groups, most recently achieving a milestone in serving its first fully blind student through its Center for Higher Independence program on campus.

While the adoption agency began in 1895, the Center for Higher Independence (CHI), a new branch of service, was established just 40 years ago. CHI gives adults who are special needs an opportunity to learn vital life skills in addition to providing dormitories, customized curricula, and extracurricular activities. When they graduate from CHI, these individuals have the training and support network to lead a more independent life.

A recent surge in numbers and diversity at CHI spotlighted the strategy of admissions director Terri Gutierrez. She says this surge in minority representation did not happen by chance.

“Our mission is to provide God’s children with a family, a faith and a future – not just some of them, but all of them,” she said.

Gutierrez, herself having a BS in Deaf Education, an MSW and Graduate Certificate in Women and Public Policy, and 25 years of experience working with special-needs individuals, surely had the training to improve CHI’s application numbers. But to boost diversity as well as enrollment, she modified her strategy.

“I dived into a lot of unexplored territory, reaching out to students on the Autism Spectrum, as well as international and visually impaired students at the conferences and fairs we attend around the country,” she said.

Currently, 40% of students at CHI are on the Autism Spectrum, and the first fully blind student has been accepted into the program.

CHI has also kept pace with an increasingly smaller world. As globalization and technology shortens international distance, the Center for Higher Independence has welcomed students of all nationalities, and has seen its mission serve these groups profoundly.

Said Gutierrez, “We’ve really made huge strides with our international students from Jordan, Nepal and Congo. […] In many countries, people with disabilities are shunned, and ostracized in society. As a result, they are not educated or cared for, so for those international students who have gone through the program, it’s often the first time they experience being part of a family, of being loved.”

Applicants who pass several phases of evaluation are given a schedule for their customized curriculum, which is often completed within 1-2 years. During this time, students live with other young adults with disabilities on the 25-acre campus, fully equipped with a computer lab, health and wellness facilities, a swimming pool and pavilion, opportunities for spiritual guidance, and a variety of other extracurricular activities. The entire campus is wheelchair accessible.

The Center for Higher Independence shares a 25-acre campus with the Action Adoption facilities at Providence Place, along with numerous others. The adoption services offered by Action Adoption hearken back to the turn-of-the-century, when the nonprofit was first established. Then, it exclusively provided infant adoptions, and went by the name San Antonio Rescue Home. As it did then, Action Adoption still provides domestic adoption services and facilitates infant adoptions, but its adoption services have, like CHI, changed with the times. Action Adoption now provides near-comprehensive support for every type of adoption, from domestic infant to older aged adoption, international adoption to embryo adoption, with resources provided to both pregnant and adoptive parents.

About the Center for Higher Independence at Providence Place

The Center for Higher Independence at Providence Place in San Antonio is licensed by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. To learn more about CHI or to schedule a visit of our 25-acre campus, please contact us today.

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