Organization helps students ‘step' out into life
Above, Gary and Melody, both culinary students of One Step Beyond, slice sweet potatoes inside a new professional kitchen funded by a $150,000 grant.

When Mimi Rogers became concerned about what was in store for her daughter after high school, she did something about it. In 2003, Rogers started One Step Beyond, an organization dedicated to offering young adults with cognitive disabilities the same opportunities in life as everyone else.

Her daughter, Dylan, now 21, has Down syndrome.

The 501c non-profit organization started with 16 families involved in an after-school program and eight adults. The population and programs have grown significantly, however, in four years.

Rogers, CEO of the organization, said she has three goals for every participant: to learn life skills (independency, money management, cleaning and more); to provide a peer group for those involved and remove them from the isolation of their own home; and to enroll them in an employment program.

Rogers said the employment program has become one of the most successful parts of the program. Participants are given practical job training, such as punctuality, teamwork, behaviors and more. After they are given an adequate amount of instruction, the organization helps them find a position and a job coach follows up with the employee and employer to ensure a good relationship.

One Step Beyond has teamed up with 24 local businesses to help provide constructive employment to participants. Most recently, the organization contracted with Peoria Unified School District and Westview High School to provide meals for students there. Participants learning catering have been providing WHS' football team with healthy meals.

“The coach has said he has really noticed a difference in their playing,” said Jim Rio, the chef that has been teaching the participants the outlets of cooking.

The organization has been able to teach its students culinary skills thanks to a recent $150,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. The money helped build a professional kitchen for the students to learn in.

“Food service is a natural for people with disabilities,” Rogers said.

The grant is the second One Step Beyond has been given from the trust. The first was in 2004 to help them get the organization started.

The vocational training center, where they teach participants real-world job skills, is at Olive Avenue and Loop 101. The organization also has two other locations - a teen transition center at 87th Avenue and Union Hills Drive and after-school programs for Deer Valley and Peoria Unified School Districts and Glendale Union School District.

The organization also works to pair its students and put them into a supervised home together. The caregiver, typically someone the same age as the students, stays with them around the clock to ensure their safety.

The organization has grown to serve more than 65 students.

“The best thing I see about these kids is that these guys are such a family; they're best friends,” Rogers said.

For more information about One Step Beyond, or how to enroll, visit www.onestepbeyondinc.org, or call 623-215-2449.

Reach the reporter at cballard@star-times.com, or call 623-847-4617.