Valley Haven sees strong support

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

VALLEY — Valley Haven Executive Director Craig Brown told Valley Lions Club members Monday evening that while local support for the school has been very strong for a long time, it’s different on the state level.

“We constantly have to fight for funds,” he said. “We have to stay in touch with our legislators and appeal to the funds we get.”

There have been years when draconian cuts were on the table and could have forced the closing of multiple schools like Valley Haven.

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“If what they were talking about went through we would have had to close,” Brown said.

Schools like Valley Haven operate off of Medicaid waivers.

“You get so much for each person,” Brown said. “There’s a waiting list for those who need to be at schools like ours. There’s an estimated 2,000 people in Alabama who are awaiting services. We got a new client recently who had been on a waiting list for 10 years.”

Valley Haven School presently has 77 adult clients.

“We have one who’s 84 years old, and he’s as active and spry as anyone there,” Brown said.

The client population is aging, and there’s not as many young people coming aboard like they did in the past.

“When someone dies, you think you could replace them with someone on the waiting list, but it’s not that easy,” Brown said. “The money goes where it’s needed. It could go to Birmingham, Huntsville or Mobile and not here.”

Brown describes Valley Haven’s early intervention program as a true gem. Babies in need of these services receive assistance that sometimes changes the lives of affected families. He cited the example of a local man who was told by a doctor that his granddaughter would never be able to sit up by herself or feed herself. There were obstacles to overcome, but with the constant attention from therapists, she became much more independent with time.

“It’s very moving to hear him talk about this,” Brown said. “There are tears in his eyes when he talks to you about her walking by herself with the aid of a walker to church.”

This year marks a milestone year for Valley Haven. The school began 60 years ago in a house in Plant City.

“Local people have always rallied behind it,” Brown said. “That’s why we are going strong 60 years later.”

The Hike/Bike/Run fundraiser is currently under way. The goal is $100,000. Should that be exceeded one more time it will make 30 straight years of doing that.

LaFayette Day is fast approaching. It will be taking place in the downtown area on Saturday, April 13. LaFayette Day traditions include lots of good food, live entertainment, rides for the kids, a classic car show and the roar of approaching motorcycles as bikers arrive from the annual Motorcycle Ride, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday morning in Lanett. The next big event will be the Valley Haven Auction, which will be taking place at Valley Community Center, starting at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 26.

The big day will be Saturday, May 4. The lion’s share of fundraising, some $70,000, is generated on Hike/Bike/Run day in the form of pledges. There’s a 10.5K race that annually draws dozens or racers. It’s sanctioned by a Georgia racing association and draws lots of runners from the two-state area.

In addition to running, there’s a lot of walking and biking events that day.

The final event of the Hike/Bike/Run will be bowling and bingo at Valley Bowl the Tuesday after the Hike/Bike/Run.

In classroom settings, Valley Haven clients learn basic academics, socialization skills, personal grooming skills and how to make arts and crafts.

“We make lots and lots of buttons,” Brown said. “We send them all over the U.S. We sent some to Washington state not long ago.”

Almost everyone who has campaigned for office in east Alabama has had campaign buttons made at Valley Haven School.

“The state is always telling us to take our clients out not the community,” Brown said. “We’ve been doing that for years. They love getting out and meeting people and local people enjoy meeting them. They really love the Fun Walk. They will be doing that this year on April 19. They raised over $16.000 last year on their Fun Walk.”

The pledges remain strong year after year, but there’s more variety in the way money is raised.

“Years ago, we might have 50 to 100 bikers,” Brown said. We don’t have that many now. All of us are busy, and there’s so much going on now. Some kids are into travel ball, kayaking, video games and the like. We’d like to get more people involved, especially young people. We’d like for them to take part in the Hike/Bike/Run and to have a good time.”

Brown said this school is blessed to have an outstanding staff.

“They are great,” he said. “We have 26 full-time people on our staff, two part-time people and three therapists on contract. They work with our baby program.”

Brown encourages everyone to interact with a person who has an intellectual disability should they get the chance.

“You will be glad you did,” he said. “It will change your life.”