A venerable Coeur d’Alene nonprofit recently received a much-needed makeover courtesy of Fox 28’s House to Home program.
For 35 years, TESH Inc. has assisted disabled children and adults throughout North Idaho. The organization’s programs foster self-sufficiency and independent living skills.
Russ Doumas, CEO, said the House to Home renovation far exceeded their expectations. “No one can remember when the building received a fresh coat of paint, inside or out.”
Community sponsors partnered with television station KAYU’s Fox 28 program to completely revamp the building’s dated exterior. “We ended up with $250,000 in capital improvements,” Doumas said.
Architects from Miller Stauffer designed a Northwest theme. The cream-colored building received a coat of rustic green paint and the expanded entry way features energy-saving double doors and large timbers.
Two new circular driveways and a covered walkway have improved safety and accessibility for TESH clients. Prior to the remodel, buses had to back up after dropping individuals off. Now, clients enter the building through a covered walkway and buses can simply pull through to the street.
The contemporary renovation matches the organization’s progressive ideals. Doumas said TESH has served thousands of individuals of all ages. Staff members help parents and caregivers navigate the often complex maze of social services and health care providers. In addition, TESH children’s services include an after-school program, intensive behavioral intervention, psychosocial rehabilitation and Camp Independence, an activity-filled summer program.
Mary Banks discovered Camp Independence when her son, Christopher was 12. “He had so much fun and he grew so much socially,” she said. Christopher, now 20, is developmentally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism.
After that rewarding summer experience Banks enrolled her son in several other TESH programs. Currently, he’s there five days a week. “The help and support for us as a family has been so beneficial,” she said. “Christopher was teamed up with really awesome people. Everybody at TESH is caring and wonderful.”
That commitment and caring translates to the adult services, as well. Doumas said a major goal of TESH is to help disabled adults become an active and involved part of community life. “We teach them how to travel in the community, how to shop for groceries and prepare meals. The purpose is to give them the skills to live independently.”
As Doumas showed a guest the airy new vestibule, he said, “We tend to rise to the level of our expectations. I see that as a barrier to people with disabilities. The expectations the community places on them are not as high as what they’re capable of.”
He cited a compelling example. TESH recently received a grant for a reading program. “We’re having great success with it,” he said. “We have a woman in her early 60s who recently read her first book!”
Another avenue of expectation involves employment. Since its inception, TESH has helped disabled adults find work. In a large workroom at the facility, dozens of clients assemble everything from rubber welcome mats to calculator key pads. On any given day, 50 to 60 individuals work on site. The organization runs a document shredding business out of the vocational center, as well.
In addition, TESH helps clients find jobs at local businesses. “We have 50 people working in the community and we want to expand, if we could get financial assistance and support.”
TESH provides job coaches who work with employers to train clients. These coaches ensure the employees understand the job expectations and also help to develop support for TESH clients at the job site. Doumas said, “We’ve found broad support in the community. Over 100 businesses have hired our clients.”
He expressed excitement about their latest program: Project Search. TESH has partnered with the Idaho Division of Rehabilitation, Kootenai Health and Coeur d’Alene public schools to offer an innovative transition program for disabled students in their last year of school.
Students enrolled in Project Search start their day in a classroom at Kootenai Medical Center. A teacher covers academics with them. A job coach introduces them to one of three jobs at the hospital, where the students will serve as interns. “The idea is for them to spend 10 weeks in three different jobs,” said Doumas. Organizers hope the program will ease the transition for disabled young adults from the school system to the workforce.
Sue Ericksen has three disabled adult children. When her family moved to North Idaho from California in 2001, she worried about what kind of services she’d be able to find for her kids. “We went to TESH and our jaws just dropped,” she said. “We were amazed and thrilled by what we found.”
Her daughter, Heidi, now 39, has a complex variety of disabilities and had struggled with anxiety and social issues. “They helped her navigate social skills and were actively involved in finding a place for Heidi to work,” Ericksen said. Heidi spends two days a week at TESH.
Ericksen’s son Stephen, 31, is there every day. “He really enjoys it,” she said. And daughter, Laura, 33, also attends the activity center each week.
“These kids need something to do besides sitting and watching TV all day,” Ericksen said. She appreciates the way the staff at TESH encourages each individual to grow and progress at their own level.
As Doumas surveyed the improvements he said the campus facelift was an encouragement to both the staff and clients.
Ericksen believes that acknowledgement is long overdue. “It’s an enriching, fulfilling place. My kids are happy,” she said. “There’s something special about the people who work at TESH.”