SAFFORD — As any working parent will attest, having a safe, secure after school environment for their child — like the Boys and Girls Club — can be a Godsend.

Now the parents of special needs children will be able to find that same relief.

The Graham County Rehabilitation Center will host a ribbon cutting and open house for its new facility — the GCRC Adult and Children’s Services Building, located at 512 Main Street, Safford — on April 23 at 5 p.m.

“We want parents to know they also have a safe, enriching place for their (special needs) children,” said Suzanne Johnson, GCRC Adult and Children’s Program manager.

The new building allowed the GCRC to move its adult day treatment program out of the shared space at the GCRC Thrift Store and expand its services to special needs children. The space is large enough to allow for separation of the two groups, which will mean specialized supervision based on age.

“There is a gap in services when it comes to (special needs) children in the Valley. We have the opportunity fill the gap,” said GCRC Executive Director Pam Patt.

In addition to after school, children will be able to take part in a summer program, with activities, snacks and outings.

Everything in the building has been donated to the nonprofit GCRC — from the flooring and remodeling of the space, to all of the training items, games and activities.

The new facility is just part of maintaining the GCRC mission, said board President Carl Watson.

“The GCRC was started in 1968 by local parents, with their own money, who saw a need for services for their children. We have a moral obligation to make the programs sustainable. We have to make sure the programs don’t die,” Watson said.

To that end, the GCRC helps its consumers become a part of that sustainability — helping them learn the life skills to work.

“Whether they work in the GCRC businesses (recycling, the thrift store, and the Main Street Café) or at another business in town, you should see the looks on their faces when they do the job and get their paychecks,” said GCRC Director of Operations Lane Hegel. “This gives them pride.”

Johnson said it’s hoped that by getting children into the program, they can also learn the life skills to help them transition to working adult.

“Thirty years ago, may of our consumers would have been in institutions, doing nothing all day and, because of overcrowding, be lucky if they even got something to eat,” Johnson said. “Instead, we have people learning jobs, taking pride in what they can do and having their own home or room. It’s about quality of life.”

To participate in the Graham County Rehabilitation Center children’s after school and summer programs, the child must be Arizona Long Term Care System qualified, via the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

“It can be a complicated system to navigate. But we can help parents get started since we work closely with the case workers,” said Patt.

The key, though, is not to wait. A person must be Arizona Long Term Care System qualified before the age of 18, or they will never qualify for the state program. Which means the GCRC would not be able to assist.

“There are services out there to help the consumers and their parents. The parents sometimes just have to look beyond their pride,” Watson said.

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