Unless U is On a Mission to Serve Adults with Development Disabilities
Published: September 1, 2022
By: Paige Townley
Everyone should have an opportunity to learn – that’s the viewpoint of Lindy Cleveland, who realized that’s not always the case when her older brother, Jordan, was no longer able to after graduating from high school.
Jordan has Down syndrome, so when he completed high school at the age of 21, there weren’t any nearby adult programs his family could find for him to partake in. That reality set in hard when Lindy moved into the dorm when she left for college. “Jordan was there for move-in day,” she says. “After we got all moved in, he was sitting in the hallway and he was really upset because he said, ‘I want to do this, I want to go to college.’ His heartache was so real. And I was like why do I get to go to dances and go to games and have a shirt with my school’s name on it? Why do I get to do all those things and his option is to sit at home?”
In the summer before her senior year, Lindy realized the only way it would change is if she did something about it. “My first thought was can we create something that makes him feel like he gets to go to college too?” she explains. “I had this moment of that’s it – if I don’t care to do this and step out in faith and trust that the Lord will provide, then who is going to?”
Little did Lindy know that when helping her brother, she would be helping hundreds of other adults just like him who need opportunities to learn and socialize. The very next week after having that thought, she had her brother and four other adults with special needs at her parents’ house. That number soon increased, and kept increasing, to the point where Lindy moved her school to her church, Shades Mountain Baptist Church, and soon a nonprofit was born: Unless U.
Unless U is a nonprofit organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities and their families through education, job training, and life and social skills. Through the program, students can take classes that are all broken down by academic ability levels, and all classes have a special focus on teaching general needed life skills.
“We do all of the things we feel are important for their growth long term,” says Marye Grace Sauermann, Unless U marketing and development director. “The goal is to help students be as independent as possible, so the academics are life skills based. In math class, for example, they are learning how to count money. In reading, they are reading adaptive news articles to stay up-to-date on current events.”
In addition to academic classes, students participate in electives, intramural sports, and of course, worship time. “We start our mornings dancing and praising the Lord and in prayer, and then we go from there and we hit hard in academics all morning and then we have fun in the afternoons,” Lindy says.
After years of a capital campaign, the organization completed their own facility in 2018, which allowed them to increase enrollment to approximately 120 students. Not content with resting there, however, the organization continued to seek out ways to serve more within the special needs community.
It has done so with the recent opening of Post Place, a second facility that is allowing them to bring in more special needs students who specifically need a little more one-on-one, hands-on care. “Our students are incredibly special,” says Lindy. “They deserve the best and we want the best for them because they are the best. We say we’re their teachers, but they teach us way more. I’m constantly convicted and challenged just by walking alongside them and doing life with them.”
Paige Townley is a Birmingham-based freelance writer.