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Redwood celebrates 67th anniversary quietly, but its impact on NKY lives reverberates in big way

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

“People don’t laugh at each other; they laugh with each other. There’s this genuine heartfelt joy and appreciation of people and recognition that we are more alike than we are different,” says John Francis, Executive Director and CEO of Redwood.

John Francis

“It has taken me all these years to realize that life boils down to helping people with what you have to offer. Whether it’s time or talent or treasure or a listening ear or smile or a word of encouragement.”

This what makes Redwood such a special place, he says.

Redwood celebrated its 67th anniversary on May 13, receiving a Proclamation from the City of Fort Mitchell. Founded by two families in 1953, the Reders and Woods who both had children with disabilities. Not able to find services or equipment for them, the two families, along with others, joined forces and names, to create this much-needed organization called Redwood.

In the beginning, nuns provided education to seven children on a $4,000-a-year budget. Since then, the nonprofit has grown tremendously. There are now almost 800 children and adult clients. Twenty different services are provided by 160 full- and part-time staff, operating on a $7.5 million-a-year budget.

“We have, over time, developed a reputation for the quality of care to some very special and needy clients. Our mission is to provide the highest quality of care we can to people with severe and multiple disabilities, to help them reach their highest level of independence,” said Francis, whose love for the people of Redwood, clients, and staff, is clear. “That’s the North Star that guides everything that our Board does, our volunteers do, our staff does.”

Clients range in age from a few weeks old to adults in their 80s. They are “people who are in many ways just like you and me, in addition, they have some special needs. They are very endearing, they’re honest, and they’re genuine,” Francis says. All of them need and benefit from the services received at Redwood.

“We are very successful helping clients discover their goals, name their goals, and meet their goals. We are very good at that,” Francis says.

Each client at Redwood has a Plan of Care (POC). The staff works with professionals, the families, and the adult clients to help them identify their goals, meeting their capability of independence. Some of the educational, therapeutic, and vocational programs provided include nursing, child daycare, food services, occupational, speech, and physical therapies, adult day training, and adult daycare. There is even an opportunity for some of the adult clients to be employed by Redwood.

Adults who attend Redwood are life-timers. Children are there until age six then graduate to public schools. Some come back for the after-school program as well as to re-enter as an adult.

Programs and services are daytime only, Monday through Friday.

Redwood is accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) for their adult programs and Board and receive accreditation for the children’s programs from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Accreditation is recertified every three years by meeting over 1,200 standards. The scores are high for clients reaching their outcomes and the standards they have to meet for accreditation.

“No one person, especially me, should get credit for this, it’s really a team effort that has involved board, staff, and volunteers,” Francis says humbly. “The staff, many are there because of a heartfelt desire to be of help to other people.” Francis says, “They are there for the benefit of the clients and do incredible things supporting the mission.”

Organizations in the intellectual, and developmental disabilities (IDD) field, like Redwood and others across the country, are not financially sustainable by government reimbursements alone, says Francis. Redwood must fundraise $600-$700 thousand a year to cover the gap in reimbursements. Francis says this is getting increasingly harder for non-profits.

To meet all their needs, Redwood relies on hundreds of volunteers a year sharing their time, talent, or treasure. Spending time to help Redwood could be gardening, cleaning, doing arts & crafts with clients, joining the Board. It’s whatever you enjoy. Lending your expertise to the Board or Executive Director, for them to call upon you for consultation, is how to share talent. Helping to cover the financial deficit by giving to the annual campaign, attending a special event, leaving a major or planned gift is giving treasure to support the clients of Redwood.

Celebrating Abilities at Bat

At one fun event, Francis met Mr. Red celebrating Abilities at Bat at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati Reds in conjunction with Major League Baseball held this to raise awareness and celebrate the lives and stories of those living with disabilities.

Redwood’s website is an excellent source to learn more. Explore their history, learn what they’re doing, and watch Client Profiles. Francis advises having tissues ready. Careers, events, and volunteer opportunities are explained. Just be aware that some things are on hold right now due to COVID-19.

Staff and clients address each other by names, ask ‘how is your puppy,’ or ‘how your mom is, she was sick,’ are examples of the humanity Francis saw immediately. “It is a very caring environment,” Francis says it is one of the most special places he has ever worked. “I sensed the deep sense of family…Helping people with whatever you have to offer.”

So, while the big anniversary was quieter than planned, thanks to COVID-19 and isolation and all that, the impact Redwood has had on untold lives in Northern Kentucky speaks with a loud — and deserving — boom! everyday.

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