By Justin Sondel email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — When Kellie Spychalski shows up at work she can’t help but smile.
That’s because Spychalski gets to help people in the developmentally disabled community grow more independent day by day.
“To me what’s really cool is that every single day you are helping people to live (more independently),” Spychalski said.
Spychalski, who has worked with the developmentally disabled community for 21 years, came on board as the executive director of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, a not-for-profit that provides job training, housing and recreational opportunities to people with disabilities, at the beginning of the year.
She was the executive director of the Arc of Orleans county, a national not-for-profit that works with the developmentally disabled community, before joining Opportunities Unlimited.
Spychalski said she took her first job working with the community during college because the schedule suited her needs as a student, but soon became interested in the civil rights aspects of the work.
“I think sometimes we don’t really take into consideration how some of our folks are not really fully accepted members of the community,” Spychalski said. “Unfortunately, it’s really sad for the community because our individuals are just like you and I.”
Spychalski said that after a short time working with the developmentally disabled community she knew it was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
“For me, what it was an opportunity to sort of advocate for people so that they could reach their potential just like the rest of us,” Spychalski said. “That’s what really attracted me, was helping people to reach those goals.”
But Spychalski knows that the work comes with many challenges, and the biggest hurdle she has seen since coming to Opportunities Unlimited is fundraising, she said.
State funding has remained flat in recent years and soliciting private donations is always a challenge for not-for-profits.
The organization, which serves more than 600 individuals, has already taken many measures, including scaling back staff and trimming programming, to deal with tight budgets, Spychalski said.
“Truthfully at this point we really can’t get any leaner,” Spychalski said. “We’re trying to make due with what we have.”
Still, Spychalski is glad to wake up and make the 60-mile drive from her home in Holley to work for the people that Opportunities Unlimited serves.
Earlier this week she wore a large grin while visiting with a fine arts class that was painting sunsets, offering words of encouragement to the budding artists.
Spychalski said that seeing the people that the agency works with grow socially, professionally or emotionally makes it all worth it.
“It’s seeing that progression that’s really rewarding I think,” Spychalski said.
And to see the smile on the face of someone who has felt a sense of accomplishment can turn your worst day around, Spychalski said.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world.”Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257