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Security Health Plan invests in Wausau social activity center for adults with special needs

Katie Normand and Anissa WaltersWhile working in the Special Education Department at the Wausau School District, Katie Normand and Anissa Walters were faced with a common question. What happens with the students they educate after they’ve completed high school?

The question, “What is next?” lingered with Normand. She realized there is a gap after high school for individuals with special needs. That is when she decided to take action. She wanted to create a community in the Wausau area for adults with special needs. In January of this year she and Walters opened Adaptive Communities, Inc. This is a non-profit social activity center for adults with special needs.

“Why can’t they have a place where they feel like they’re a part of something? A place where they can go and be their own person? A place to make friends, be a part of the community,” Normand, the center’s director, said.

Security Health Plan will invest $1,000 in Adaptive Communities as part of the Employee-Driven Corporate Giving grant program. Each month Security Health Plan awards a different charity or group a $1,000 grant. The groups are nominated by employees at Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS).

MCHS employees Patti Timken and Mary Morris nominated Adaptive Communities, Inc., for the grant.

“This center is dependent on grants and donations,” Timken said. “The grant will help support a place that provides a community for these individuals. It is a place for adults with special needs to go for a fun and inviting experience.”

Center co-director Walters said receiving this grant helps provide their members the ability to learn life skills. But she said it brings so much more to their lives.

“For many of the center’s members something is missing in their life. Some are living alone. Some live with strangers. They don’t have that sense of community,” Walters said. “Now that they’re a part of Adaptive Communities they are starting to gain that. They are making friends, gaining positive attitudes, learning life skills. They are getting a sense of community, a place to go where they feel they belong.”
Normand said they hold their members accountable. She said they treat them as adults. She said they teach their members how to cook and clean up after themselves, prepare them for job interviews and how to interact socially.

“We teach them life skills and help them learn what is acceptable and appropriate,” she said.

“When they’re out looking for a job, they are competing with people who do not have a disability,” Walters explained. “We want to help them achieve and provide them the support they need.”

Alex Kearsey and Tammy PetersonToday the center serves 47 members, with about 20 individuals each day. There are three employees and they accept any volunteers willing to help out.

“If you have a hobby, we will probably love it,” she said, urging people to visit the center to share their hobby or vocation. “We had a community member bring in goats and talk about them; we’ve had art classes and cooking classes. We urge community members to come in and spend some time with us.”

Center co-director Walters said volunteers are welcome to call, email or stop in at the center. She said they are open Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. She said they may be out in the community for one of their outings, so it may be best to schedule a time to meet.

One of those recent outings was to the circus in Wausau. Normand said she noticed one of the members crying and she learned he was crying because he had never though he would see an elephant in real life.

Another outing that strongly impacted the members was the day they attended the Wausau VIP Prom. The center rented a limo. They did hair and makeup. Everyone went out in their finest attire.

“There were so many tears of happiness because they never thought they’d get to experience prom,” Normand said. “Those are memories they are going to cherish forever.”

The center hosts a monthly event for members and their families and friends to get together. They do a variety of activities like game night, Woodchucks outings and even a talent show.

Timken and Morris regularly attend the various functions the center hosts. The highlight from the past year, Timken said, was the talent show.

“I was in awe of the talent so many of them had. It was really neat to watch them be so excited to participate,” Timken said.

Morris added, “One participant played the violin and I have never heard that kind of music, it was beautiful. It was amazing to see her shine.”

Walters and Normand said the organization is happy to accept volunteers. She said they are always in need of donations, like cleaning supplies, food and grocery store gift cards. Normand said the grant funds from Security Health Plan will be used to purchase groceries for the daily lunch at the center. She said it will also help offset the membership costs.

To get involved, make a donation or learn more about Adaptive Communities, Inc., visit their website at or check out their Facebook page at