As the county seat for Carbon County, Price sits just outside of Utah’s famous Castle Gate, at the mouth of Price Canyon on U.S. Highway 6. With a population around 8000, the town is not exactly a target for big business. One organization, however, decided last June to set up shop there with only three clients.
RISE, a non-profit organization with facilities in Utah, Arizona and Oregon, is known for its reach into both urban and rural communities to deinstitutionalize people with disabilities and help them gain independence by creating opportunities that enable personal choice.
Lisa Breitenstein, assistant executive director for Utah operations, acts as a regional manager, traveling between RISE’s 29 Utah locations. Facilities stretch from Ogden, Orem and St. George, to Vernal and Tooele. Employees at these various locations work with their clients on issues affecting all areas of life.
“We want to support the whole person,” Breitenstein said. “Emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally, we make sure that we’re giving them the opportunities that will improve their quality of life.”
According to Jon Westling, a 44-year-old man with cerebral palsy, RISE does just that. Westling’s disability has caused him to lose virtually all control of his arms and legs, confining him to a wheelchair and causing his limbs to involuntarily spasm regularly. The palsy necessitates assistance with everyday things that most people take for granted, like eating, changing clothes and using the bathroom.
Inside his contorted body, though, resides a witty and intelligent mind, unaffected by the disease. Westling love to tease, laugh and joke with people about his “spazzy body.” After a few years with RISE, he describes the organization as one that would go the “extra mile” to help him.
“Rise is kinda like one big family,” Westling said. “They have their clients’ best interest in mind and they really try hard to take care of us.”
Westling shares a house with a roommate, and rides the bus to work in an electric wheelchair, operated by a head-mounted control. He enjoys public speaking, and working with children who also have disabilities.
Giving people like Westling the opportunity to decide how to steer their course through life, and sharing their joy when they reach their goals is what RISE is all about, according to Breitenstein. Humbly, though, she says employees don’t usually take credit for the successes of their clients.
“We’re just giving them the tools, and these individuals are taking the tools and they’re making things happen themselves,” Breitenstein said.
But providing tools for change and success doesn’t happen on its own. Breitenstein talked about difficulties in employee retention because of the sometimes challenging work as well as lowered wages after budget cuts from recent decreases in state funding. Despite these setbacks, the passion Breitenstein has for the work she does allows her to continue to move forward, unwavering.
Her zeal is a typical example of the spirit that RISE has towards the community of people with disabilities. The day program facility in Price now has a client list of 13 people with disabilities who attend regularly.
“Regardless of where you’re going with your career, this is the most important job that anyone can ever have,” Breitenstein said, smiling as she paused. “You affect the people that you work with, and you affect your coworkers. You‘re making a difference daily.”
By Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager