Founders Vicki and Stu LaRoche are the proud parents of three children, Lindsey, Austin and Tyler. Lindsey and Tyler are both diagnosed as simply being “mildly developmentally disabled”. As young children, both Tyler and Lindsey tried to fit in at a variety of places. Whether it was the classroom, Boy Scouts, the local choir, a swim team, the end was always the same—they were left out and awkward from the “normal” kids.
As the years went on, and their condition became more clear, the LaRoche’s accepted that Tyler and Lindsey were intellectually disabled, and began to enroll the younger Tyler in different camps and organizations. The older Lindsey began work with job coaches and vocational guidance in an attempt to be a working citizen one day. The results varied. Lindsey became more and more frustrated, as she was aware that her disabilities were limiting her from the life she wanted to live. Tyler, on the other hand, went from awkward to the center of attention. He was a social butterfly at camp, and a gold medal swimmer in the Georgia Special Olympics.
Seeing her son Tyler so happy and accepted in his special needs community, Vicki decided she would help other families with similar situations by starting a special needs ministry at her church called Glowing Lights. In April, 2006, The Glowing Nights ministry began, and was highlighted by a once-a-month outreach program known as NIGHTLIGHTS.
NIGHTLIGHTS was designed to be a social event on one Friday night of each month. It became clear to Vicki, her husband Stu and son Austin, that these adults with special needs enjoyed socializing together immensely, but opportunities to do so were very limited. They all realized that soon Tyler would be too old for school programs, and his best case scenario would be a part-time job somewhere. But what about his friends at school? What about all the laughing and camaraderie? What about the enjoyment and contentment that comes from being with his peers?
Because they live within the special needs community, Vicki and Stu realized how many individuals with special needs age out of the school system at 22 years old and have nowhere to go to continue socializing and learning. They began talking to family and friends about this problem and how they would like to be involved in addressing it. Their ideas were encouraged and supported as they shared their vision of where one could go when the school bus stopped coming? With the help of their son Austin, and a leap of faith, The Next Stop was born in August, 2006. In September, 2007, the doors opened to the first 10 members, with membership more than doubling the first six months.
To date, The Next Stop has served more than 130 adults with special needs in our community. Supported by committed volunteers and staff, and a very capable Board of Directors, The Next Stop has developed into a thriving organization.