Spirit of Alabama: Unless U offers training, fun for adults with disabilities
In Alabama, there are around 350,000 adults with developmental disabilities. An organization in Vestavia Hills is offering a space where those adults can get together, learn and have plenty of fun, too.
Unless U founder Lindy Cleveland said she started the program because her brother, who has Down syndrome, couldn’t find a space for young adults after being part of organizations focused on younger children. That gap in services is a statewide problem, Cleveland said.
“Alabama actually ranks 46th among the 50 states in spending on services for this population,” she said. “So, we knew it was a problem in our family but we didn’t know how large the problem was until we started Unless U. It kind of spiraled and became this really massive thing we weren’t even prepared for.”
Unless U is a place where adults with disabilities are challenged to be the best they can be. Continuing education is the organization’s primary function, but sports and work training are important, too.
Part of the campus includes an ice cream store called Scoops. Unless U attendees work in the store and gain valuable work experience and social skills. Not to mention Scoops generates funds that help keep Unless U operating.
Cleveland said she wants Unless U students exposed to a wide variety of experiences.
“Our main focus is continuing education,” she said. “Our classes are broken down by academic ability level. We have students of all abilities, they’re grouped and they rotate to each teacher. We do math, reading, science, history and Bible study every day. And then in the afternoon they get to choose what they’re a part of every afternoon.”
The day WVUA 23 visited Unless U, the basketball team was playing the team from the Exceptional Foundation. There was a whole lot of excitement in the gymnasium when the Unless U Unicorns took the floor.
The team has cheerleaders who are just as important as the players. Everyone did their best and everyone who attended had a better day just by being there. Sarah, a cheerleader for Unless U, loves being part of all the excitement.
“I love to cheer and go to the games,” Sarah said. “And cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer!”
For the players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans, the final score was the least of their worries. What was most important was having fun.
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