NEPA Inclusive Strives to Improve Lives for People with Disabilities

Local News

As it appeared in The Times Leader

By Bill O’Boyle

WILKES-BARRE — Frank Bartoli was looking for a different approach to educating and training people with disabilities.

People of different races, genders, and cultures are advancing their movements all across America, he said, yet the preferred model of support for people with disabilities continues to be segregated institutions, day programs, and group homes.

The parent of a child with Down Syndrome, Bartoli knew there had to be a better way. That’s why he founded NEPA Inclusive in December 2013, with the help of Christina Murakami, a local schoolteacher.

“We focus on an individual plan for each person — a person-centered plan — one that focuses only on inclusion,” Bartoli said. “We help them find jobs and help support them living in the community like anyone else.”

Launched in Pittston, the agency later moved to Scranton. In 2015, they moved their office to Wilkes-Barre, where a partnership was formed with the Wyoming Valley CYC, an established non-profit agency.

NEPA Inclusive currently serves Luzerne, Wyoming, Lackawanna, and Susquehanna Counties and holds contracts with Carbondale Area School District, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and the offices of intellectual disabilities in the counties it serves.

The agency offers a curriculum-based program in schools, helps people move from their family’s home into their own apartments and offers 24-7 support for people living in their own apartments. They also provide a one-on-one day support staff for people living at home with their families. This summer, they will offer a work-training program in conjunction with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Limited options

Bartoli said as he began to consider his daughter’s life a few years back, it became apparent that she had limited options, if any, to truly live the life she wanted.

He said his daughter lives in Duryea, but there are no day programs in Duryea. Traditionally speaking, Bartoli said his daughter’s options would have been get on a van and go to a day program or a pre-vocational workshop for employment, where she would make below the minimum wage.

Under the existing system, “she would be directed to where she could work and where she could spend her day,” Bartoli said. “I just thought that wasn’t good enough for her — or for other people with disabilities.”

Bartoli felt strongly that his daughter and all people with disabilities should be treated with more dignity and respect — and they should be asked what they wanted to do with their jobs and how they wanted to live their lives, and then have appropriate supports built around them.

The model has been steadily building steam and gaining fans.

“We have about tripled our caseload this year alone,” Bartoli said. “I attribute that growth to the fact that people like what we do. They like how we can design a customized plan for their child and they like that we support them in the way they want to be supported.”

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NEPA Inclusive is a provider of services for people with disabilities who have a ‘Waiver for Service’ through the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs (ODP). We provide In-Home and Community Supports, Companion Services, Supported Employment, and Supported Living Services.

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