ACHIEVA breaks cycles of isolation and segregation with empowerment

One recent innovative program has been the ACHIEVA Family Trust.

Medicaid is the primary funding source for support for individuals with disabilities, but an individual cannot qualify for Medicaid if he or she has more than $2,000 in personal assets. In essence, it sentences people with disabilities to a lifetime of poverty.

In the mid-1990s, Congress allowed not-for-profits to create pooled trusts, which wouldn’t be counted against the Medicaid qualifications. Blanco says ACHIEVA was the first Pennsylvania organization to start managing these pooled trusts.

Today, after pro bono legal work from K&L Gates LLP, ACHIEVA’s family trust program manages almost $100 million of funding to assist more than 2,000 individuals in all aspects of their lives.

Shifting priorities

Staying close to customers also may lead you to shift your priorities.

The support and services for early intervention for young children, birth to age 3, have settled in because of federal mandates. So, Blanco says ACHIEVA has shifted its focus to adults living with elderly family members.

There are more than 9,000 people in Pennsylvania on housing waiting lists. Not only is ACHIEVA lobbying in Harrisburg to improve the situation, it also created a public/private partnership called “A Home Of My Own.”

Family members or the individuals who don’t require 24-hour oversight can choose a roommate or live alone in an apartment. ACHIEVA then provides the necessary support.

“It’s allowing individuals to get off these lengthy waiting lists for support and services,” Blanco says.

Segregation and isolation were the norm for children and adults with disabilities, but Blanco has seen that change over her career. When children with disabilities are in regular classrooms, their student peers are the employers and housing specialists of tomorrow — and they are used to being together as one community.

She says it’s been a pleasure to help individuals participate in their communities, go to school in regular classrooms and get real jobs.

“I cannot think of anything better that I could’ve done with my career than to be in this period of time of such monumental positive change in the lives of people with disabilities,” Blanco says.