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In the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the northern enclave of Kingwood was one of the worst hit areasresidents that chose not to evacuate were hammered by hour after hour of water, and many lost power. The streets were impassable and many families were trapped in their homes, waiting for help to arrive.

BRITE Success’ Recovery Efforts

ONEder’s partner, Behavior Readiness Intervention and Training for Education (BRITE) Success, was lucky: they survived the storm and were ready to offer a helping hand to anyone in need. Brite Success is a consulting company that provides direct services, behavior support, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy as well as consulting to schools, private facilities, businesses, and families. Brite Success’ office is in Kingwood, Texas, but in a protected area attached to a shopping plaza. Instead of closing down and staying with their families, the staff of BRITE Success decided to keep their office open. They stayed put, kept the lights on in the storm, and told families that needed assistance they were free to come and use the office as a safe place.

Melanie Johnston, who founded BRITE Success, walked outside at some point during the storm and began to see the damage. She began to get calls from clients and their families that they were trapped at home without food. A few doors down in the shopping plaza there is a Dominos, and it too was open. Johnston walked in, saw they were empty, and struck up a partnershipDominos would make pizzas for free if Johnston and her supporters would deliver them. Over the course of the next two days, BRITE Success staff and clients delivered over 500 pizzas to any family in need that they encountered. Employees banded together to help a family with two adult children with disabilities rebuild their home, which was badly damaged by the storm, and they coordinated volunteers for other repair jobs.

 

The Origins of BRITE Success

Johnston says these heroic efforts are nothing out of the ordinary for BRITE Success; they routinely help families who have loved ones with disabilities deal with unconventional or difficult situations all the time. Another family with two adult children with disabilities experienced a medical event that ended up in the death of one of those children. They had no idea how to tell their other adult child that their sibling had died, so they called BRITE Success. How do you explain that someone’s getting married, or when a family member has a baby, to a person with a developmental disability? “When you’re overwhelmed like that and you don’t know who to turn to,” says Johnston, “having someone who knows a little bit about how you and your family works is really helpful.”

Johnston’s experience with the community of people with developmental disabilities goes back decades. When she was in high school, Melanie Johnston’s best friend had a brother with a developmental disability. This was in the 1960s, when having a disability meant you just didn’t go to schoolthere were no special education classes. But Johnston’s friend’s family was forward-thinking and compassionate.

“They just treated him like a regular person; whatever we did, he did with us,” says Johnston. “I looked at what was out there for people with disabilities at the time and thought, ‘there must be another way to do this.’”

After getting her degree in speech pathology and working in the field for many years, Johnston used this vision to start BRITE Success to offer families the services of skilled behavior analysts and technicians, and special education programming and training.

“We’re completely dedicated to this population,” says Johnston, noting that BRITE Success works with individuals from the time they’re diagnosed to the time they need any service, and that the company works with clients that range in age from 2 to 67.

Johnston says it is this dedication, as well as a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of new technology that’s allowed her to grow the business. She started working in the field in the early 1980s, working for an early intervention project that served public and private schools. Soon she co-founded a non-profit school in Midland, Texas for students with disabilities, then went into private practice. BRITE Success was formed in 2004, and in 2007 Johnston began bringing in other therapists, “it just has exploded,” Johnston says.

These days, they have 12 therapists that each carry a caseload of about 20-50 cases. “For a long time we didn’t even advertise, it was all word of mouth. But specializing and letting people know that we are completely in love with the population we serve and committed to continuing our own education to keep abreast of the technology has made all the difference.”

 

BRITE Success and ONEder

Johnston and her team are at the forefront of understanding and using Augmentative Assistive Communication (AAC) to help those with disabilities communicate in ways other than verbally such as through the use of voice output computers, speechless communication boards, core communication boards, or speech generation devices. They regularly attend and present at AAC national conventions and other relevant state and national professional conferences to learn about the latest products, such as ONEder, a comprehensive platform that connects special education teachers, students, and mainstream educators.

“If somebody says to me, ‘have you heard of this?’” Johnston says, “I’ll either say yes, or I will go find out.”

They also offer this training locally and nationally by going out in the community to instruct parents, teachers, and other therapists in using these technologies.

BRITE Success is one of the few private companies that provides services that help with adult employment and empowered adult living, and they have partnered with ONEder to help them achieve this goal.

“We want to make sure that our citizens with disabilities have real connections to the community, that when they go to the grocery store someone knows them, when they go to the gas station, someone knows them. We want them to be able to connect with the community sustainably, without having someone else having to facilitate it. This is just one part of their policy that being connected to the fabric of a community helps all people, not just those with disabilities.”

Check out the video below to see some of the great work ONEder and BRITE Success have been doing in the Houston area.

ONEder and Brite Success, LLC. understand how difficult it is to support your students in the wake of environmental disaster. We are currently providing Bridge City Independent School District with free accounts to support them as they recover from Hurricane Harvey. 

We would like to extend this offer of free accounts to any schools or educational organizations that have been affected by the recent wave of extreme weather. If you are recovering from disaster, or if you know of anyone who is, please reach out to us to take us up on this offer.

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By Emma Eisenberg

In addition to her work for ONEder, Emma writes essays for a variety of publications, including VICE, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and Slate.

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