When Amanda Owen launched Puzzle Pieces in 2012, she aimed to bring opportunities and inclusion for Owensboro’s disability population. Inspired by her brother, who has a rare chromosomal disability, Amanda knew what she wanted to offer through Puzzle Pieces -- the programming, socialization and stimulation that her brother did not have. According to Amanda, health and nutrition were and continue to be a top priority.
“I knew we needed to implement health education to our clients and bring awareness to local medical professionals on offering inclusive health opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities, but at the time, I didn’t know how to do that,” Amanda said. “But that changed in 2015 when we began a partnership with the University of Kentucky, which has brought a level of education and professionalism that I never thought was possible for our nonprofit.”
This innovative partnership began in 2015 when Puzzle Pieces participated in the Kentucky state-wide scale up of the HealthMatters nutrition and exercise program, organized by UK’s Human Development Institute (HDI) and the Kentucky Inclusive Health Collaborative (KIHC) within HDI.
“Over the years Puzzle Pieces has evolved from merely implementing the HealthMatters curriculum for participants in the day program to including health as a fundamental part of policy and programming with the organization,” said Lindsey Mullis, HDI Program Director. “Supporting the health of the individuals and families served through Puzzle Pieces has become a critical component of the amazing work scope.”
Lindsey has played a key role in providing technical support and resources to support this evolution. With the help of Lindsey and her team, Owensboro hosted a community conversation event in 2018 that brought together over 50 local health professionals, community stakeholders, and members of the disability community to discuss ways in which Owensboro was successful at promoting inclusive healthy opportunities and ways in which there could be focus and growth.
“Puzzle Pieces was integral to the success of that event and has shaped how the future community conversation events have occurred in other parts of the state,” Lindsey said.
These conversations are important to Lindsey and Amanda because Kentucky has one of the highest rates of disability in the nation. With such startling health outcomes, it is important to recognize the gap and identify the barriers to access for quality health services and programs for people with disabilities in order to properly address these unfortunate disparities.
According to the most recent CDC data, 35 percent of adults in Kentucky have a disability. Of those Kentuckians with a disability, 48.6 percent have high blood pressure, 43.3 percent are obese and 49 percent are inactive. Only 45 percent of Kentuckians with intellectual and developmental disabilities exercise regularly and 44 percent are obese.
Puzzle Pieces is honored to partner with the Human Development Institute (HDI) at UK, whose mission to promote the inclusion, independence, and contributions of people with disabilities and their families throughout the lifespan aligns with our organization’s goal of healthier clients. Their expertise has made an impact on our nonprofit and been life-changing with the health and wellbeing of each of our clients.
To learn more about HDI and their Kentucky Inclusive Health Collaborative, please visit their website for more information.