Originally Published: November 26, 2015 6:03 a.m.
"We all are going to have disabilities in our lives," said David Seigler, executive director of New Horizons Disability Empowerment Center. "If you live long enough, you will be disabled."
In fact, 800,000 Arizonans have some degree of disability, he said.
New Horizons' purpose is to empower those with disabilities to live the fullest life possible, help them stay out of institutions and live independently. It covers the full spectrum of disabilities: developmental, physical, cognitive and emotional. It provides transportation, connects people with agencies that can help and helps them find employment. New Horizons puts 15 people with disabilities to work a month, he said.
Fifty-one percent of the center's staff and board has a disability - including Seigler, who broke his back years ago and still wrestles with sometimes debilitating pain. Disabled staff members can provide peer-to-peer support and offer personal insight that can help folks answer big questions.
"How do you live your life right after a tragic accident or affliction?" Seigler asked. New Horizons' goal is to help people figure out "how to adapt to life with a disability and still live a full life."
Now, thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor, New Horizons is on the brink of a massive expansion project.
About six months ago, the center received a 9,000-square-foot commercial building on East Valley Road.
The gift raised a big question for New Horizons: What to do with the building? Traditional options for a building that size are to sell it, lease it or turn it into a thrift store, Seigler said.
"I embrace unique and collaborative ideas," he said.
What he proposed to do with it was turn it into a disability resource campus, leasing space to other providers.
"We want to create a one-stop shop," Seigler said. "Northern Arizona has never seen anything like it."
Sharing space and resources will allow the agencies involved to cut expenses - and reducing their operating costs will give them all more money to expand programs. They can also collaborate on programs, grants and fundraising.
"We spend less to make more," he said. "We're going to help more people and do it with less money."
The former school already has a good-sized gymnasium, so part of the campus will be devoted to an adaptive fitness center. Fitness and nutrition is key, Seigler said, explaining that encouraging the disabled to be more active and eat properly can reduce obesity rates.
New Horizons offices also will be there, as will the offices of three other groups, he said. One tenant has been secured and negotiations are ongoing with another organization. Groups that pulled out of the area when the economy tanked in 2008 want to come back.
"We're going to change the way disability services are provided in Northern Arizona. This is huge," Seigler said.
To make this $1 million project a reality, New Horizons needs to raise $325,000.
The cash will take care of move-in and expansion costs not covered by other donations. For example, the Flooring Shack donated all of the chemical-free flooring that will be used in the remodeling. (It must be chemical-free for people with multiple chemical sensitivity, who have intense, physical reactions to common chemicals in everyday perfumes, colognes, cleaning agents and building materials.) Other groups are donating labor.
"We want people who know other people," Seigler said. "You don't have to be a CEO, you just have to care."
New Horizons is seeking people with passion to open their wallets and their hearts, he said. "It's passion that will drive this and it is organization and planning that will keep it going."
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.