Throughout March, The Faces of Woodstock spotlights the work and the people behind Next Step Ministries. First, we meet Paige Reid, program director of Next Step. Paige came to the organization as a job skills coordinator and quickly rose to become program director. This local non-profit serves families in Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton counties. They aim to provide safe, appropriate and interactive day programs for individuals with unique needs in a Christian environment. Their mission is to improve the quality of life, not only for these individuals but for their families and others who assist in their care. In this week’s interview, Paige shares the story of how a career change and boost through the Young Professionals in Woodstock Empower meeting led her to this fulfilling career, and what she and Next Step Ministries are working toward as the community continues to grow.
How did you become involved in Next Step Ministries?
I am originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, and got a degree in psychology and equine business management. I came down here to run a horse farm and I realized after about four years of that the 24/7 always on, always being the one was a lot of pressure. I would literally have to escape to go home to Indiana from work and visit family. I realized if I ever wanted to have a family or grow more, I would have to change.
Then one night I went to a Young Professionals in Woodstock Empower event. I was sitting in a room full of people who some have started their own businesses, and I don’t remember what the questions were, but I could not answer one of them. I broke down. I don’t think until that night I realized how unhappy I really was. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like what I was doing or who I was doing it all for, I think it was that I personally knew that my life was kind of at a halt until I could figure out what the next step was going to be.
Later I met with Founder and Executive Director Lori Baker and had an interview. I was going to have a position that was very much starting rate and she ended up giving me a job skills coordinator position. Looking back now, it’s kind of one of those God things. She took a chance on me and I’m very thankful for that, and that got me to step into Next Step.
A few months later, I started asking questions about the business. I’m pretty much a “why” person. Why do people make the decisions they make? There’s always a why. With my background, I went to one of the board members and I asked him for a meeting. He thankfully sat down with me and I asked my whys, and somehow that turned not a program director position.
The way I look at it, if I can’t give 110% of myself in an organization, that’s when I need to remove myself, and that’s what happened at my last job. I knew that there was a point where I could not get passed. I’d gone as far as I could in the organization, there’s was nothing more I could do to help them out. With Next Step, the fun thing is about how it’s growing. I don’t see an end to growth potential in the community in Cherokee Country Georgia alone, and it is beyond amazing.
You said Next Step Ministries is continually growing. What does that look like?
We’ve grown twice in the last two years, and we’re at the point where we need to grow again to keep saying yes to clients. So, we are trying figure out the best way to do that. We’ve had a civil engineer out, and we’re trying to get a building up by the end of the year. That might mean we need a waiting list for right now, but we try to say we’ll be moving into a new building in December, or a few months after that. We’re growing because the community’s growing and that’s why we try to go to the city of Woodstock or Cherokee County and let them know we love it here and to help us grow so we can accommodate who’s coming in.
It’s hard to verbalize what we do because seeing is different than talking about something. People hear “special needs” and they usually think of high functioning Autism or Down Syndrome. And so, the hardest part of our job is letting the community know that there are amazing programs out there for high functioning individuals. But we are the only ones that focus on profound individuals in this community, and that is hard, not on us but on the parents. So, we have to keep our standards high, because we are the only one and we want people to be proud to say they come here.
One of our new initiatives has been to partner with Elm Street Cultural Arts Village and help make it accessible for our clientele. Woodstock is not an accessible city. I want to make it accessible. I don’t mean going up and down the sidewalk because they can, but I mean making events for them. To see the families faces at Elm Street, and to see what that’s already done with the few shows they’ve had is just amazing. Because they can take their family to Elm Street and have a sense of normalcy where they wouldn’t otherwise.
At what stage does Next Step begin working alongside families? How does Next Step Ministries help a family when their child is always going to need care?
Twenty-two is when we start because that’s when all the other therapies the school system provides such as a walking device or verbal therapies stop, and that often lands on the families to take over. A lot of times parents do it themselves until they can’t anymore physically or mentally. You have to think that if the individual is 30, or some are older, their parents are just that much older, and they’ve been doing this for 30 plus years. If you lift an adult child for 30 plus years, what does that do to your body?
We say that we’re a ministry first, service provider second because we want to meet parents where they are, if it’s financially, if they need help with, whatever it may be. We tend to have hard conversations with parents. We don’t give legal advice, but we go over their options with parents about their resources, such as a Medicaid waiver, to make sure there are always options for the individual in place.
We offer seminars and whole family care. For siblings, it is especially important. They are oftentimes put on the backburner. But I think the biggest thing is our open-door policy. We want families to know that can talk with us about anything. If they need help finding a resource and they are having a tough month we work with them. Also, we try to connect parents, because for them to know there is a community out there that they can belong to is important.
What is an aspect of Next Step you are most proud of?
One thing I’m most proud of is that our employees absolutely love our clients, to the point that a lot of us are caregivers on the side. It helps the families knowing they have a caregiver they can trust and that they already know the client because they already work with them all day. It also helps our employees because they can supplement working for the non-profit rate of pay. And if someone thinks they can just punch a clock ad have a job with us, they don’t usually last long. You need to have a heart for what we do because the standard that we have for our employees to love and care for our clients and to keep them safe is high.
Next Step has frequent outings. Tell me about the outings you do in the Woodstock community. Where do you go?
We go bowling at Stars and Strikes three days a week. We have three programs; each one gets to go. During the summer we visit the aquatics center which is great therapy for them. One program we did last year for a few weeks was we partnered with Heaven’s Gait over off of East Cherokee in Woodstock and we had sort of a day at the farm and they taught us about feed and grooming the animals. In the summer, we pack a lunch and go to the Summer Concert Series in Downtown Woodstock. We’re starting to go to the movies. And we’re always open for suggestions that allow us to work within our daily timeframes.
I understand that there are some served outside Cherokee County, is that right?
Yes. Cobb County is our next biggest, and we have some clients out as far as John’s Creek.
Are there other facilities like Next Step in Georgia?
Not that we’ve found.
What’s your biggest need for the expanded facility? What can the community do to help?
I think, knowledge. Having knowledge about what we do and who we serve. Understanding the difference between profound and high functioning. That the profound individuals deserve as much love and resources as other people. Everyone seems to be hesitant to interact with nonverbal or wheelchair-bound individuals, but they give the most love. Coming in every day is so much fun because if you’re having a bad day, they know it and they make you happy. They know exactly what you need, whether it’s a look, a laugh or asking for a hug. They take the time that others don’t, it’s amazing. To have the community know that and feel that is important.
If there was a donation drive, what would be the top things you would need?
If people wanted to donate something specific, it would be a tram, which is the lift we use in the restroom. And our new building, my vision is to have the community fund that and not by dollars, but let’s find professionals and ask, will you donate your product and let’s build this. For example, looking at the construction sites that are around here, what happens to the things they don’t use? How cool would it be to say that this building was built by the community?!
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Is there anything else that the community can do or that we can do as individuals?
We invite the community to come out and put their feet on the ground here and work with us for a day, or we love having guests for fun days or nights out. On Fridays, we might order pizza out or have a tie-dye day or ice cream social, or go out and play games, or just hang out, and the more people that are there for that is great. Mountain Lake Insurance has been a good example of that, they’ve done a lot with us.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in Woodstock? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Woodstock?
To me, Spencer Nix is someone I look up to. His family, in general, is an amazing group of individuals. What Spencer’s brought into downtown Woodstock through Reformation is amazing. To see what this community was, and now to stand there on a Friday afternoon and just take a moment to step back and look at what it is, it’s not about the beer, it is about the community. It’s just such a safe place. I love that we can take a step back by being there and say this is a moment in our history that we can appreciate. Even down to their logo, there is a purpose.