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Center gives people a place to belong

Todd Elvig photo /

Clients and helpers at the Miracles and Memories Academy in Monroe, a drop-in activity center largely oriented for adults who live with autism, seizures, Down syndrome and other cognitive and physical impairments, work on Valentine’s Day cards on Monday, Feb. 12.

MONROE — Mark Nyberg, who has autism, had to challenge himself on a recent trip to the Snohomish Aquatic Center. 
“I had to take a little step and a big breath,” Nyberg said. 
But he had lots of support: He made the trip with the Miracles and Memories Academy.
“He hasn’t wanted to swim for years, but he went to the center and loved it,” said Nyberg’s caretaker Quinn Jay.
Owner Tinna Pamanian opened her nonprofit Miracles and Memories Academy in downtown Monroe on Jan. 15. She serves those in need of community and care who have conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and traumatic brain injuries.
Pamanian said she has a 4-year-old with special needs and just wants to treat her clients the way she wants people to treat her son.
“We have clients at very different levels,” Pamanian said. Some are highly verbal but can not manage basic functions, others are non-verbal but functional, she said.
The center opened with lots of support from the community.
Nearly everything has been donated Pamanian said, from tables to a TV to pencils and paper. A wall of cubbies held Disney movies, games and puzzles. There are spots for individual and group crafting sessions. A basketball game like the ones found at carnivals filled out a back wall and Pamanian said a foosball table and piano were on the way.
Pamanian said an important part of the program is teaching life skills.
“Some clients may end up in a residential home,” she said. We help them learn to “make a sandwich, mail a letter, go to the grocery store.”
So, along with the aquatic center, other recent field trips included a walk to the post office across the road, visiting a local bookstore and browsing Goodwill.
Along with benefits to the clients, the center provides respite to parents and other caregivers.
“I am working out for the first time in six years” said Tammy McIntosh, whose son, Caleb, has tuberous sclerosis complex, which is a rare genetic disease.
“I can get here in 10 minutes, it’s a little miracle... It is really, really, really a blessing,” she said.
McIntosh had tried other centers, sometimes driving an hour each way, but struck out in her search for a center or caregiver that would serve her son in a way where she could take a break. Centers that provide such care are few and far between. While disabled adult care options exist in cities like Carnation, Marysville, Bothell and Everett, the types of clients they can serve and programming options offered mean they are not a fit for everyone. The state contracts with 17 centers spread throughout Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Pamanian found the need for a Monroe center after serving as a paraeducator in the Monroe School District. As parents asked her to help with afterschool care, she became a certified home care aide.
“When you have a 24/7 need,” Pamanian said, including help in the restroom and overnight, caregivers of young adults sometimes just needed to go to the grocery store by themselves.
She said for parents whose children age out of high school, it was like falling off a cliff. Their children with special needs are engaged with full-day school
programs, lots of resources and providers, but when they age out of the school system they have virtually nothing available.
So Pamanian consulted with her husband and started looking for a property to fill the need. A good space at a reasonable cost was not forthcoming.
“I just started praying,” Pamanian said. “I needed some guidance here, to open some doors.”
When the 123 N. Blakely Street building hit the market, the rent was “way too much” for the startup. But Pamanian met with the property manager who bought into the idea of the center. She went to the owner and returned with a gift that gave the fledgling nonprofit the push it needed: a rent-free first month.
That gift opened the door to Pamanian’s vision, a place of belonging. “While everybody has their own thing, they accept each other. It is safe to be in your own skin,” she said.
To Nyberg, the center is a place where he can just “relax and chill and breathe.” A little respite from a challenging world.
The Academy is a family venture. Pamanian’s daughter volunteers three times a week, and her son and husband have helped with ferrying donations, setting up the space and more.
She has yet to draw a paycheck, Pamanian said, but hopes that will change as the center becomes established.
Pamanian did just clear one hurdle: As of Feb. 13, Miracles and Memories Academy secured a contract with the state that lets Pamanian accept state-funded clients more easily and for more hours than when she had to bill as a private provider. The contract covers respite services as well as community guide and engagement services.
In addition, Pamanian may make payment assistance available to clients.
The center currently operates Monday through Friday and can accommodate clients on weekends by appointment.
Pamanian is focused on adults aged between 21 and 40 but can provide services to other ages as well. She plans to add five spaces during spring break and the summer to assist school-aged clients and said she would add more as needed.


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