By John Deike View CLICK HERE to view the article on 19 News website

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, OH (WOIO) – At Koinonia, it’s not about disability–it’s about possibility.

The Northeast Ohio nonprofit is opening new doors for people with disabilities while breaking the stigmatizing cycle that works against special people who are making a positive difference in the community.

One of their latest success stories involves Mark Donofrio.

Donofrio, 26, is a person who has autism, but with the range of support that Koinonia offers, he’s proving that the disability doesn’t define him.

Director Julie Abiecunas wants to use Donofrio’s significant progress to start new conversations with people in the community, namely employers who are wary of hiring people with disabilities.

“I think that Koinonia was able to break through because we have always been very communicative with Mark, and been very person-centered as an agency–even when Mark was having some barriers…We listened to Mark and had resources and support there to help him through any challenges he’s had,” said Abiecunas.

According to Koinonia President and CEO Diane Beastrom, it comes down to a multi-faceted approach that is calibrated to each person they serve:

“Using three simple strategies – predictability, visual supports, heavy sensory activity – as well as stabilizing him on the right psychotropic medications, Mark began to show significant improvements. His harmful behaviors became less frequent. He became more accepting of change, and he started to take personal responsibility for himself.

Today, Mark lives in a smaller Koinonia neighborhood home, where he is learning his way around town by bicycling with staff. He volunteers at Ronald McDonald House and Holy Family Hospice and is learning about jobs in the community. He created a schedule for himself and follows it, building the trust and admiration of those around him.”

The organization was founded in 1974 in Garfield Heights by Sister Mary Charles Szczecinski, who, at the time, refused to accept the lack of services available to people with disabilities.

Forty-five years later, the nonprofit — which provides residential, day program and career services — now serves more than 600 people in six Northeast Ohio counties.

To learn more about the organization, click here.

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