Bear-O Care provides support for adults with multiple disabilitiesNov 07, 2023 01:58PM ● By Peri Kinder
The Riverton nonprofit Bear-O Care takes adults with disabilities on group outings to get them involved with different experiences in the community. (Photo courtesy of Michael Braga)
When Michael Braga and his wife, Ruth, adopted Brandon (Bear) as a newborn, they knew he couldn’t see or hear, and they knew it would be a parenting challenge. What they didn’t know was that Brandon also had CHARGE syndrome, a condition that affects several organ functions, leaving him severely disabled.
As Brandon’s condition progressed, the Bragas knew they had to plan for long-term care for their son who needed to be fed through a tube, wore a diaper and couldn’t communicate effectively.
They had many wonderful caregivers for Brandon, including Trudi O’Brien who is one of a handful of nationally-credentialed interveners in Utah. As Brandon’s intervener, O’Brien worked one-on-one with him, learning how he communicated.
“It was my job to let the world know what he needed and what he wanted, and have the world be able to talk to him,” O’Brien said. “[I] figured out his communication style and built communication around that.”
Once Brandon aged out of the public school system at 22, the Bragas knew they weren’t the only family that faced the challenge of raising an adult with multiple disabilities. They decided to do something to help other families and created the nonprofit Bear-O Care.
To create the most effective program, Michael Braga went to graduate school for deaf/blind education and his wife changed her degree and earned a masters in nursing. They partnered with O’Brien to open Bear-O Care in Riverton (1864 W. 12600 South), serving individuals and families all over the Salt Lake Valley. The center is open Monday through Friday and offers a community approach to caring for disabled individuals while supporting families and caregivers.
The organization’s five paratransit buses pick up participants in the morning and take them to the center where they spend the day being watched over, educated and cared for.
“We’ll bring them in and do therapy and music therapy,” Braga said. “We take them out in the community and do anything they might find interesting, whether that be going to the park, going to a museum or the store, or even go to the bars; whatever a 20-something-year-old adult would enjoy doing.”
In May, Bear-O Care expanded to offer a residential home for men with disabilities who need intensive medical care. The residence in Bluffdale provides space for large gatherings of families and friends, and includes community outings and individual activities.
Braga said programs offered at Bear-O Care have been life-changing for families and caregivers who spend an inordinate amount of time caring for their loved ones.
“We’ve had some clients whose parents have graduated from school because they were able to come here or we have some clients whose parents were able to get back into the workforce who haven’t in years,” Braga said. “We see the rest of the family, the mom and dad and siblings, who are out doing things that they’re normally not able to do because of their severe disabilities. So it’s really nice for us to be able to give them those opportunities.”
“I think our oldest resident is 67 and you’ve got parents who’ve been caregivers from the time that they were born,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a couple of families who are in their 70s and needed to find a place to put their child where they’re comfortable and safe and happy. Now they’re able to actually retire which is not something that parents of multiple-disabled kids are able to do.”
Volunteers are always welcome at Bear-O Care, as are donations that help cover costs, including bus repair and replacement. Plus, the residential home is raising funds for an elevator and ramp to the front door. Donations can be made at BearOCare.org.
“We are able to tell parents ‘this is where your child is going to come live now, with people like themselves in a home just for them,’” Braga said. “It’s a big help to parents and families.” λ