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Abilities Network

Empowering individuals of all abilities to reach their full potential.

For 60 years, Abilities Network has supported Marylanders of all abilities by offering a variety of services that cultivate inclusion and promote self-determination. Giant Food has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program.

Tell us about Abilities Network. 

Our mission is cultivating inclusive communities through relationships, innovation, and high-quality services. It’s a very broad mission because we do many different things.

Our organization was founded in 1964 by epileptologists and parents at Johns Hopkins. Though it originally focused primarily on epilepsy, our organization broadened its services and grew into Abilities Network in 2000. With this broader focus, we support Marylanders, specifically those from marginalized communities, in achieving their personal goals and reaching their maximum potential. 

Some of the people we support have a diagnosed disability, but many struggle with other risk factors, including lack of environmental support, socioeconomic status, or limited knowledge of resources. Through our programs, we support about 10,000 Marylanders every year. This year, we are excited to celebrate this impact and our history as part of our 60th anniversary. 

Through our programs, we support about 10,000 Marylanders every year.

What services does your organization provide to the community?

At Abilities Network, our services are comprised of four different programs that serve very distinct populations. Our values of reflection, well-being, courage, and respect unite all of our programs.

Our largest and longest-standing program is Community and Employment Partners. Through this program, we support adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in living the lives of their choice by providing independent living and employment services. Many of our societal systems are set up to exclude people with disabilities from opportunities and prevent them from making their own decisions. To counter this, our services empower individuals and their families to set high expectations for themselves, accomplish their goals and become important members of their communities. We focus on helping each individual break down the barriers that keep them from doing whatever they want to do.

Next, we have Project ACT, an acronym for All Children Together. Through this program, our Early Childhood Mental Health and Behavioral Consultants provide child care providers and early childhood educators with coaching and mentoring. These personalized supports are intended to help them successfully include young children with disabilities or challenging behaviors in their community-based programs. Early childhood professionals have been historically underpaid and have limited resources and access to professional development, despite having one of the most important roles in our community. Project ACT ensures that all children and families have access to high-quality inclusive child care. 

Our third program is Healthy Families Baltimore County, which is part of a national program developed 25 years ago by Prevent Child Abuse America. With proactive support to parents who may have had past trauma, stress, or a lack of resources, the intent of the program is to prevent child maltreatment or neglect.  By giving parents extra support, we help them set and achieve goals related to parenting, school, work, housing, employment, healthy relationships, life skills, and more. Our support empowers parents to raise toddlers who are healthy and ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

We also have Senior Services that focus specifically on seniors in transition. Our services focus on seniors who have lived in their homes for decades and face the overwhelming task of downsizing when they move into retirement living. We consult with seniors and their families to help them with the physical and emotional work of sorting through a lifelong accumulation of belongings. The goal is to take on the difficult task of organizing and coordinating their move so they can focus on caring for themselves and settling into their new home. 

Through our services, Abilities Network serves many different people, from infants to seniors and everyone in between. We pride ourselves on customizing how we support each individual we serve by meeting them where they are and helping them get where they want to be.  

We pride ourselves on customizing how we support each individual we serve by meeting them where they are and helping them get where they want to be.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

Finding affordable, stable housing is a huge issue in all of our programs. There is a shortage of affordable housing, and even though there are resources like Housing Choice Voucher Programs, navigating the systems to access them can be confusing. Without a home, no one can focus on other areas of growth.

We recently supported someone in our Community and Employment Partners Program with housing.  This particular person was in the process of being evicted from their home and reached out to our staff for help. One of our staff members jumped in, hoping to either stave off the crisis or find them a new place to live. Our staff member worked with this person to assess the situation and find a solution.

Together, they found out that our client had actually overpaid their rent! Through this discovery, they realized the person should not be at risk of eviction. They were able to reverse the eviction process and even help the person in our services get a credit on their rent. Our services are not about intervening in a crisis. Instead, we focus on long-term support. So, now that this person’s crisis is solved, we’ll continue to work with them to keep track of their rent payments to prevent this from happening again.

This story is just one example of some of the challenges people we serve face and how our staff supports people by not just staving off crises but helping them learn and grow from them. Ultimately, our goal is to help people further their independence and ensure they do not have similar experiences in the future.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

One of our overarching values is cultivating inclusion, which has become the trademark of our services. Throughout all of our programs, everyone we support comes from marginalized communities. Historically, people with disabilities were tucked out of sight and institutionalized. Child care providers were forced to figure out how to support children with challenging behavior or expel them from their programming. Families under stress were written off. Seniors and their families have to navigate transitions into retirement living on their own. Those we serve are sent messages in our society to keep expectations low for themselves, so we want to reverse this way of thinking. We really think of ourselves as a social justice organization. 

We treat everyone we serve with the respect they deserve. We help people seek and demand respect and what they need for their well-being. Through our services, we not only educate them to expect and demand more, but we also support them in engaging with the broader community. By doing this, we simultaneously educate the whole community, encouraging everyone to value people of all abilities and backgrounds. 

What do you want people to know about Abilities Network?

Our goal is to help people find their own voice. Our staff is exceptionally thoughtful. We don’t show up in somebody’s life and tell them what they should be doing. Instead, we make sure each person is in the driver’s seat of their own life.

We don’t tell people what their values or dreams should be. We strive to help each person figure that out for themselves. Again, self-determination has historically been denied to the populations we serve, so our job is to help remove the barriers stopping them from getting to where they want to be. 

We don’t tell people what their values or dreams should be. We strive to help each person figure that out for themselves.

How will you use the funds you’ve received from the Giant Food Community Bag Program?

We are very fortunate to receive government funding, but it’s never enough to truly cover the cost of delivering high-quality services. 

Donations we receive support our programs, directly benefiting the people we serve and our communities. This includes supporting adults with developmental disabilities live independently, maintain successful employment, and build social connections. We coach and mentor child care providers to successfully include all abilities. Donations also ensure we are able to continue our home visits to new parents who need some support navigating parenthood and being the healthiest family they can be. They also allow our move management services to be available to seniors who otherwise may not be able to afford our downsizing and transition services. Donations are essential in our ability to do outreach raising awareness of our services to reach those who can benefit. We also need philanthropy to invest in staff training, development, and capacity building to continue to innovate and pursue high quality services. 

Interview with Lyn Elliott, Chief Executive Officer

Published June 12, 2024.