‘BVT Bridge’ Offers New Path for Community

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) is no stranger to change. The nonprofit organization, a relatively small campus in East Texas that has a big heart for adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), stands on the shoulders of a community that has often experienced a change in life plans.

“When we first went into quarantine, I thought, ‘Are we going to regress in social skills?’” said Ann Abrameit, a mother worried – as most have been – about the effects of COVID-19 on the social and educational development of her children. Her daughter, a high-school senior with IDD who can be anxious when separated from family too long, had been part of BVT’s day program for less than three months before COVID-19 hit. “I worried we wouldn’t be able to exercise her ability to connect with people outside her comfort zone.”

Abrameit’s daughter poses in front of a heart mosaic she made during quarantine

BVT’s day program lets local youth and adults who are not full-time residents come to the campus every weekday in a setting much like school or camp, where an expanded BVT community can socialize, play and work together. But like many in-person events, the day program at BVT came to a temporary end in the middle of March, an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In June, however, Day Program Coordinator Rachel Parker started BVT Bridge, a virtual solution for BVT’s day program participants that lets them connect online with their friends and take part in a variety of activities.

“Our son is very social person,” said Michele Sanders, whose son has been with BVT’s day program for two years. “He likes to be in contact with his peers at BVT, and [BVT Bridge] has been a great avenue for him to see them and interact with them.”

Sanders said she wasn’t sure her family would be able to “maintain relationships and be active in different roles in the community” when COVID-19 first came to Texas, but since quarantine began and the family has spent more time together, Sanders and her husband have taught their son the board game Rummikub, now playing nightly. They’ve put together puzzles and learned to enjoy “doing little things we don’t normally make time to do.”

Meanwhile, Abrameit says her daughter gets online almost every day BVT Bridge has an event, citing everything from a large exotic bird to a game of hangman as the types of activities she bonds with her BVT friends over. “Probably the most important thing it does is it gives her something to share with the family at dinner. Everybody else has things to share from their day, but she wouldn’t without that interaction.” Abrameit admitted she even stole a good idea for a virtual game from BVT Executive Director Steven Campbell, using a similar format for a recent family reunion hosted online.

In addition to fun, BVT Bridge also gives support and growth to its members. This is especially true in their twice-weekly morning chapel, a time to foster spiritual development. During last Friday’s chapel, Campbell led a message about the importance of prayer in life, especially in times when we feel hopeless. “If I don’t pray, then I’m cut off from my only source of strength,” Campbell said. He invited one of the BVT members on the call to end chapel with a prayer. A resident named Erin volunteered, ardently praying to “let us be the shine in your light, Lord,” and closing, “We pray in the holiest name of Jesus, amen.”

For those who witness BVT’s work almost every day, as the Sanders and Abrameit families do, Erin’s prayer was one moment in a pattern of BVT’s approach to their mission.

“To hear [the residents’] trust and faith has been very faith-building for me,” said Abrameit. “I can’t say enough of how impressed I’ve been with the organization…. It’s the staff that makes the difference.”

Sanders said she appreciates BVT, especially now in an uncertain 2020. “They’ve kept us very well informed of the situation. [BVT has] gone above and beyond, actually coming out to our homes and dropping off gifts for our son,” she said. “He has found that to be very special that they continue to think of him during this time.”

Both families seem to have found at least a few reasons to be thankful amid the chaos and canceled plans, much like us all. “Going forward, hopefully when all this subsides and we become busy again, we can keep some of these new traditions in place,” Sanders said.

Learn more about BVT’s commitment to provide hope and home to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.