History and background

Photo: Horizon Project Inc. Milton-Freewater HeadquartersHorizon Project, Inc. was incorporated in Milton-Freewater in 1977.  A group of local citizens, some of whom where parents of individuals with developmental disabilities, made the application to be considered a non-profit corporation (501(c) 3) in Oregon.  The environment at that time was much different than it is today.  When a child was born with developmental disability the attending physician recommended institutional placement.  Parents were advised that an institution was the best place for their children.  Some parents did not adhere to the professional advice and raised their children at home.  When these children were reaching young adulthood, their parents were searching for activities that would enhance their children’s quality of life.  These parents were the pioneers in establishing community-based services for persons with developmental disabilities.  In 1977 the whole nation was reevaluating supports for people with disabilities.  Gradually, funding from the federal level began to be disbursed for support services in the community rather than institutional settings.  The climate today is much different for persons with disabilities.  Most large institutions are being closed and schools are now mandated to develop programs for all children regardless of their abilities.

The change in focus on how to best support persons with disabilities have created some short and long-term challenges for community based providers such as Horizon Project.  Currently, our client base is composed of two groups of individuals with radically different support needs.  One group of individuals grew up institutional settings and still has dependent care support needs fostered by their former living situation.  These persons tend to be over 40 years of age and were released from institutions over the past ten years.  They reside in our group homes and participate in an activity based day program.  The other groups of individuals are generally in their 20’s and 30’s and have always lived at home, attending local schools.  These individuals have a very different expectation of kinds of support services that they are seeking.  For the most part, because of their social experience and expertise, these persons are looking for supports that would enable them to live in their own homes.  They are also interested in competitive employment, working for an employer other than Horizon.

Photo: Smiling at a Christmas PartyThe dichotomy must be acknowledged as we make business decisions over the next five years.  Persons with institutional backgrounds are aging.  The community based support model designed to meet their needs is basically a cookie cutter, one size fits all, approach.  Younger individuals are seeking support services that respond to their individual needs.  For example, a majority of the young folks would not want to reside in a group home setting.  They prefer to reside in their own homes.  If we want to develop a group home capacity greater than our clients’ needs, we would waste our resources and jeopardize our ability to remain in business.  Horizon must be careful in finding the right balance as we look to our future as a viable organization serving individuals with disabilities.

One other salient point is important to mention.  The current funding system for the provision of support services is a third party funding system.  Horizon Project contracts with Umatilla County to provide certain services by slot allocation.  The revenue flows from the Umatilla County to our organization.  The individual being served has no control over the money that is spent.  As a result of strong advocacy, the funding system will soon change.  In the future, individuals with disabilities will be given the service dollars to be spent on services as they see fit.  This will require all successful businesses that provide support services to individuals to respond to their customers.  If a business is not responsive, the customer will spend their dollars elsewhere.

The changing business climate has led to some changes in Horizon’s strategic planning.  In addition to the consumer having control of their service dollars, the source of these funds (State and Federal Government) has seen a growth in funding requests from many worthwhile concerns.  The increased competition for these public dollars may lead to a diminished revenue flow to businesses such as ours.  Over the past 4 years, our business plan has emphasized decreased dependence on public dollars.  The percentage of revenue derived from public support has dropped from nearly 100% to approximately 40% of gross revenues.  At the same time our annual revenues have increased to approximately $3,000,000.00.

Photo: Posing next to a leprechan mail boxAt a Board retreat in 1997, the Board and staff have arrived at a significant conclusion.  For the past twenty years, our primary business focus had been on the needs of Developmentally Disabled adults.  The Board came to understand that this primary focus was lacking an important component.  Even if we were doing a great job providing for people with disabilities in our community, the community itself could be experiencing hard times.  As a result of this thinking, the mission statement for the organization became, “Providing Quality Services for a Healthy Community”.  There are many components that would help define a healthy community.  Inclusion of persons with disabilities within the fabric of our community is one very important component in our thinking.  The new and broader focus has allowed our organization to begin to meet some of the community’s needs.  We have established a youth program and have been instrumental in developing affordable housing in our community.  We have created businesses that provide employment to community members and generate profits that we donate to many worthwhile projects within the community.  Our future efforts will continue to focus on activities that benefit the greater good in our community.