After 30 years, ADD still makes a difference for disabled

COURTESY PHOTO | ADD clients in the special sensoray garden in Northbille on Sound Shore Road.

It was 1983 when Don Rieb decided to make a career move that changed everything for so many people.

The Bellport native had been working for 10 years at AHRC Suffolk, one of the region’s best-known organizations serving people with developmental disabilities.

Mr. Rieb liked the work. But one day, he met with a group of parents who troubled by the thought of putting their developmentally disabled children in crowded state institutions. After that meeting, he decided to found his own nonprofit in Riverhead, one that would enable the developmentally disabled to live and thrive in warm, homelike environments. He named the organization Aid to the Developmentally Disabled.

“I had a metal military desk, a broken metal cabinet and a broken Brother typewriter that had correcting tape on it,” Mr. Rieb said, recalling ADD’s early days. “My salary was next to nothing. But your instincts kick in and you say, ‘This is going to work.’ ”

With the help of New York State funding and licensing, Mr. Rieb opened ADD’s first residential program in 1984 in Northville. Now, 30 years since its inception, ADD has 30 group homes in locations from Wading River to Greenport. ADD also provides residents with medical care and 24-hour services, including clinical interventions and support.

“The goal of ADD is to provide services to individuals promoting independence and community inclusion in a home-like environment with therapeutic supports with the belief that every individual has value and the potential to learn and achieve goals,” Mr. Rieb said. “The success of ADD has its foundation in providing competent and compassionate staff who are role models for the people they serve and an administrative staff and board of directors all working together.”

Dorota Wider has worked for ADD for over 13 years and is one of its three program directors. The program she runs, Individualized Residential Alternative, houses people in nine different group homes where  they learn skills like personal hygiene, cooking and how to get their learner’s permit.

“We believe all of [the residents] can learn new things,” Ms. Wider said. “They’re learning at a different speed but they do learn.”

One of ADD’s unique features is its 2.5-acre Sensory Gardens in Northville, where residents can help take care of the small farm animals that live there, draw with sidewalk chalk and have picnics.

“It’s part of our therapeutic approach we take with our residents and they love it there,” Mr. Rieb said of the gardens.

Calling the North Fork home, Mr. Rieb said, is a key component to ADD’s 30-year success.

“Riverhead is a great community and they’ve always accepted us from the get-go,” Mr. Rieb said. “For the most part, we’ve been under the radar. We focus on what we do: delivering services to the disabled.”

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