Residents of Brunswick County readily identify and enjoy the wonderful resources associated with living in an active beach community. The locale’s waterways, beaches, sports fishing, golf courses, senior services, and personal enrichment activities are available and highly visible for our citizenry. However, the County also holds a multitude of hidden gems that may not be noticed by the general public. At Brunswick Community College (BCC), one such gem is the Brunswick Interagency Program (BIP). Since 1985, the BIP and its dedicated staff have aspired to “enable students with intellectual and development disabilities to reach their full potential, become more independent, and fully participate in their communities.”
BIP was born more than thirty years ago from a grassroots movement that consisted of BCC leadership, Brunswick County Schools, Southeastern Center Mental Health, and a small group of parents and community members that worked vigilantly to establish services for adults who were seeking help after their public school experience was over. This group believed that Brunswick County could have the same level of services and support as counties located in more urban areas. Since that time, the BIP has evolved. Funding, accountability, support, and employment opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities have been the catalyst for many of the local changes that the program has experienced. After winning the Governor’s Award for Excellence in 1987 and the Employer of the Year Award (NC Association of Rehabilitation Facilities), the program significantly expanded its partnerships to include Vocational Rehabilitation, the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities, ATMC, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus (Lamb Foundation), the Brunswick Transit System, the South Brunswick Islands Pilot Club, and Brunswick County Parks and Recreation.
One characteristic of the BIP which has remained constant, however, is the love and daily adventure that students bring to the program. The staff is dedicated to maintaining an environment that fosters purpose, dignity, hope and joy to students who have been searching for a distinctive brand of individual fulfillment.
The initial trailer, twenty desks, and two microwaves have long since disappeared. Today, the BIP generally is housed in two buildings which total approximately 18,339 square feet. These facilities include a cafeteria, twelve classrooms, two computer labs, and an independent living skills training center. A greenhouse and a gift shop are small appendages to the main facility. The areas are designed to instill vocational skills, basic skills, and socialization. Students experience a variety of instructional styles, assessments, interest inventories, and challenging projects that require collaboration. The driving force behind facility upgrades is the program’s advisory team and the students’ annual satisfaction survey. The program’s most recent student feedback indicates a strong interest in obtaining a more substantial greenhouse and new designated space for pet grooming. The program is actively seeking partners and donations for both initiatives.
To accommodate the needs of a diverse population with varying skills and educational aspirations, the BIP utilizes four distinct approaches to personalize instruction. First, Individual Day Support delivers 1:1 staff assistance for students with the Innovations Waiver. This service assists students who are unable to safely transition throughout their day to enjoy a meaningful day program. Second, Adult Basic Education (ABE) provides a strong educational foundation for learners that may have struggled during their public school years. ABE courses (Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Speaking and Listening, and Technology/Computer Literacy) promote contextualized learning and introduce students to local career pathways. The knowledge and skills obtained through ABE help learners in daily living, accessing the cyber world, researching vocational careers, connecting with valuable community resources, and becoming involved in the community. All of the students enrolled in ABE are routinely assessed for learning gains and success is celebrated!
Third, Independent Life Skills provides organized and productive activities that prepare adult students for life and employment while strengthening their connections in the community. This approach provides meaningful activities to adults functioning on the lowest levels of literacy who may not be prepared to enroll in ABE. Finally, the BIP provides an innovative approach to Supported Employment. Quality job matching is key to successful placement and is provided for BIP students as well as for I/DD adults living in Brunswick County who wish to enter the world of work. The program director is passionate about placing the best possible employees in Brunswick County businesses. New private sector employers are encouraged to contact the program BIP to learn more. The program’s current employment services include:
-Transitional Crews (Cafeteria, Yard Crews, Housekeeping Crews)
-Supported Employment /Job Coaching
-Work Adjustment and Job Coaching
-Retention, Stabilization and Training/Follow-Along
Harold Jones, St. James Plantation (BIP Student)
In June of 1994, the Brunswick Interagency Program at Brunswick Community College welcomed Harold Jones. Harold, a lifelong resident of Brunswick County, entered the Supported Employment Program. Through the program, Harold was trained, placed, and began to work at Lowe’s Home Improvement. Following several successful years of employment at Lowe’s, Harold ventured out and secured a job at St. James Plantation. To date, Harold has maintained employment at St. James for eleven years, eight of which he has spent at the Reserve Club. During part of his employment, Harold had to rent a home in Shallotte but said that he never failed to have a ride to work or home. He was a member of the New Beginnings Church and credits them with much of the help he received during this time.
Harold became well known by the community of St. James because of his friendliness and his humble attitude. In September of 2015, Harold attained a goal that he felt was beyond his reach. He became a home owner through the Habitat for Humanity. He continues to live in his home in his beloved Southport and plans to live the rest of his life there.
Harold attributes his success in employment to the Brunswick Interagency Program. He realized quickly that not only did the BIP teach him specific job skills but the program also taught him the habits or “soft skills” it takes to be a successful worker. He learned to be fully invested in his job and in his co-workers and to always give his best to the employer. Harold remembers his days at the Brunswick Interagency with fondness and credits the Supported Employment staff with giving him a model to make his life successful and his dreams come true.
It is my honor to credit BCC’s Dean of Continuing Education, Greg Bland; the Director of the Brunswick Interagency Program, LeAnn Cecil; and the exceptional instructors and staff of the BIP for sharing the history, the services and the student success behind our “hidden gem” at Brunswick Community College – the BIP.