Lori Gougeon, president and CEO of InReach, with an InReach resident.

UNION COUNTY — On July 1, Union County Residential Services was acquired by InReach, which became the largest provider of services for adults with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (IDD) in the county.

InReach is a non-profit and provides both housing and employment opportunities for adults with IDD in an effort to give those adults the freedom to choose for themselves what they want to do and realize that their dreams are attainable.

In 1974, InReach began in Mecklenburg County under the name Charlotte Rehabilitation Homes. The organization started with $500, and according to their website, it seemed unlikely to some that it would be successful, but over the decades it has grown and is “affectionately known as ‘the little non-profit that could.’ ”

And since its establishment, its name has changed several times, but in 2010, it officially became InReach “to reflect our commitment to making hopes and dreams within reach for those we support,” their website states.

The Enquirer-Journal reached out to Lori Gougeon, president and CEO of InReach, to discuss the acquisition and what it means for Union County families.

The acquisition took a full year to complete. In July of 2019, the former executive director of Union County Residential Services (UCRS) approached InReach. After months of discussions — from legal perspectives, to deciding if InReach could take on the two group homes managed by UCRS and coordinating staffing — and the COVID pandemic delayed acquisition plans — UCRS dissolved and InReach stepped in,Gougeon said.

InReach and UCRS are similar, because they are non-profits which offer services for adults with IDD; however, InReach is a larger organization with a larger budget.

Too, InReach has services in Union County like a day activity center in Monroe on Winchester Avenue. The center provides social activities that include art and exercise. Gougeon estimates that currently InReach serves between 75 to 100 people in Union County.

To make sure the two former UCRS group homes are well managed, Gougeon said InReach will hire the staff who already worked at those homes. An operations manager, a HUD manager and a social worker have visited the homes and provided staff with guidelines and InReach specific training.

Because InReach already managed 15 group homes in Mecklenburg County, Gougeon said: “It’s not real difficult for us, because we’ve been doing it for so long and we have all the manpower and personnel in place already that oversee group homes. For us, we feel very confident and they have really good staff so we have hired all of them to become InReach employees.”

InReach “honored” the UCRS employee’s seniority, that way they wouldn’t have to start over from the beginning like a new employee would, Gougeon said.

Now that residents with IDD are under InReach’s roof, they will begin to benefit from services like job employment beyond a work-activity center. Not that there’s anything wrong with work-activity centers, but residents have the choice to either find employment with a work-activity center or a job in the community at a business.

Gougeon said InReach wants each of its residents to have a “well-rounded” life. Meaning there’s a variety of activities they participate in throughout the week. Some days a resident may work, volunteer or go to the day-activity center. Residents can choose if they prefer more social activities or work throughout their week.

Gougeon said at one time she was cavalier about mainstreaming adults with IDD into the community and getting them involved as much as possible; however, after having conversations with people who had experience with work-activity centers, she realized that adults with IDD sometimes prefer being with in environments where they are surrounded by their friends and peers. She said she can see “both sides” now and she has learned to listen to a person’s wishes.

To address residents’ wishes and upgrading the Union County homes in addition to what works for both former UCRS staff and InReach administrative employees will take three to six months of assessments, according to Gougeon.

She attributed part of the success of organizations like InReach to having good staff members.

It’s Gougeon’s hope that in six months all UCRS staff who were hired by InReach will continue to work for InReach and that residents will be able to participate in new, “creative” programs and “spruce up” the homes.

Gougeon has worked for InReach for 31 years after her husband’s job moved them to Charlotte. When she started as the third executive director in 1989, “it was a very small agency.” She estimated InReach’s budget to be about $1 million back then. Today, their budget has grown to about $18 million to $19 million that supports over 1,200 individuals.