Woman Speaks About Living with a Developmental Disability | #specialneeds | #kids

TEXAS — Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but the special needs of the 17 percent (one in six) of American’s living with a developmental disability don’t end in March. Those numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s the message of the staff at Cornerstone Ranch, which offers a day program for adults with special needs.

“This place is so special to me because I have made really good friends here,” said Cornerstone Community member also known as a “Rancher” Avery Figueroa. “The staff are super amazing, they’re really caring and loving, and they really like to be there for us, every step of the way.” she said.

Located on 42 acres just outside of McKinney, Texas, Cornerstone is a place where those like Figueroa living with intellectual or developmental disabilities have the opportunity to interact with other special need adults, and their community.

Community members dance during a group exercise at Cornerstone Ranch. (Lupe Zapata/Spectrum News)

The program is staffed by people who aim to empower their Ranchers to grow in independence through an assortment of enrichment activities like mind stimulating group games, painting, candle making, exercise, and much more.

“I like it so much, because we always have fun here with different things,” said Figueroa.

She’s been attending the day program for the last four years, and said the friendships she’s gained have changed her life.

“It’s like my home away from home,” said Figueroa.

“Cornerstone Ranch is refreshingly different from most other group homes,” said Cornerstone’s founder and director of operations Cynthia Heaton. “We’re built on Christian values, and with our family-centered environment we aim to create a safe and welcoming place for our Ranchers.”

For the adults like Figueroa who make up this special-need community, having the opportunity to learn alongside their peers living with disabilities just like theirs, the experience can have a long-lasting impact on their personal growth.

“It’s called Williams Syndrome, it’s a genetic condition.” said Figueroa with a big smile on her face. “We just want to be regular people. We really don’t need to be belittled for our disabilities.”

Unique personality traits of this rare neuro-developmental disorder include a high level of sociability and very good communication skills.

Avery Figueroa sits with Spectrum News 1 Reporter Lupe Zapata during an interview at Cornerstone Ranch. (Lupe Zapata/Spectrum News)Avery Figueroa sits with Spectrum News 1 Reporter Lupe Zapata during an interview at Cornerstone Ranch. (Lupe Zapata/Spectrum News)

She was very excited to speak about the importance of remembering those with special needs in the North Texas community, but admitted speaking to a reporter on-camera was nerve-racking.

“I was nervous, I had trouble sleeping, but then I told myself last night, just roll with it,” said Figueroa.

Rolling with it is one thing Figueroa said she’s learned at Cornerstone.

At 25 years old she said the life skills she’s gained have helped her become more social and extroverted, making her feel like more independent than before she attended the program.

“Coming here gives me time in my day just to just have fun, and not feel like I have to be home in quarantine for too long,” she said.

Living quarantined is what she says life was like before Cornerstone, especially when many adults she encounters don’t understand how to interact with someone with special needs. 

As an ambassador for the program, it’s Figueroa’s mission to help new Ranchers get comfortable in their new environment.

Knowing Figueroa feels Cornerstone is a safe haven for friendship and growth is rewarding to Heaton and her husband David. In 1999, the couple began dreaming of a home like Cornerstone. They were volunteering with a Young Life special needs group in Dallas, and realized they wanted to provide something better for these students who are often forced into less than perfect living situations after they graduated from high school.

“Here at Cornerstone, we relate to Jesus in a lot of ways,” said Executive Director David Heaton “He came on our level to live with us. He didn’t expect us to be perfect and come to him, and that’s really what our staff does, they get on the level of our ranchers and their level of understanding and love them where they’re at.”

Since 2006, the Heaton’s have operated a full-time resident home accommodating seven adults with disabilities residentially, staffed by two highly integrated care giving families.

 In 2011, they built a board of directors and added the nonresidential day program that now serves Figueroa and more than 30 adults with special needs.

Founders of Cornerstone Ranch founders David and Cynthia Heaton pose for a picture outside the ranch’s activity center. (Lupe Zapata/Spectrum News)Founders of Cornerstone Ranch founders David and Cynthia Heaton pose for a picture outside the ranch’s activity center. (Lupe Zapata/Spectrum News)

“They have taught us so much, and they allow us to slow down and really see the world differently,” said Cynthia Heaton, “I think it would benefit everybody, if we would all see the world as people with special needs see the world, it would be a better place.”

Figueroa agrees, she hopes people like her will be included because she believes everyone deserves a chance to reach their full potential.

“Yes, we have disabilities but it doesn’t bring us down.” she said.

If you have an interesting story or an issue you’d like to see covered, let us know about it, share your ideas with DFW Reporter Lupe Zapata: Lupe.Zapata@Charter.com.

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