SALISBURY — A local non-profit with a long history of service is going through an extensive re-branding campaign and appeared before the Salisbury City Council this week to spread the word about their organization’s efforts and new look.

Mike Dyer, CEO of United Needs and Abilities (UNA), spoke to the council Monday about what his group does in Salisbury, including its history. For most of its three decades, UNA was known as the Epilepsy Association of the Eastern Shore (EAES). Dyer admitted that the name pigeonholed his organization to a degree and made people believe that they only focused on individuals with epilepsy.

“We started out on the Eastern Shore serving people with epilepsy. Very soon into that we realized that there was a great need to help people with other developmental disabilities, various ones, and from that point forward we’ve been serving people with developmental disabilities,” he said.

The scope of that service is extensive and for years has focused on providing support and potentially living accommodations for those with developmental disabilities. However, like the agency’s name, it’s “philosophy” has changed in the last few years, too. According to Dyer, UNA does everything now in its power to help its clients maintain as much independence as possible.

“If you go back years ago, back to the beginnings of our organization, individuals with developmental disabilities were kept in an institution,” he said. “And there was a movement to move people into the community…we have been part of a new philosophy and the philosophy that our board is about is a philosophy where individuals own homes of their own whenever possible or at least have that option.”

Servicing clients in their homes, as opposed to one of the eight UNA-owned residencies in Wicomico County, lets them keep an important feeling of independence, Dyer told the council.

UNA serves about 500 individuals a year, many of which are located in Salisbury.

“We had a $4.6 million budget this past year. And of that we paid out $2.6 million in salaries and well over 90 percent of those salaries and of that revenue was right here in Wicomico County and in Salisbury,” Dyer said.

Of the agency’s 138 employees, 135 are located locally.

With clients that have their own home, Dyer explained that UNA can provide “as much assistance as you need or as little assistance as you need” to get by. For cases where independence can’t be maintained, Dyer added that UNA can help clients find other living options. Finally, UNA offers a program called “Low-Intensity Support Services” where up to $3,000 per year could be provided to a developmentally disabled individual who isn’t using any of UNA’s other services.

The goal, said Dyer, is to provide a small amount of “flexible funding” for minor things like the installation of ramps and other minor amenities. Taking care of little expenses early can keep them from snowballing into major problems, he told the council.

“If we can meet this need for them perhaps it can keep them from needing something that would be much more expensive,” said Dyer.

As an example of the progress UNA has made since adopting its independence philosophy, Dyer noted the huge increase in clients who live in their own homes.

“[In Fiscal Year 2009] we only served nine individuals in their own homes. At the end of June 30 [of this year], there were 39 individuals,” he reported. “So we’ve had a 333-percent increase over four years in the number of individuals.”
Debbie Palmer, president of the board for UNA, followed Dyer by briefing the council on her organization’s effort to re-brand. Back when it was the EAES, Palmer said that people never realized the non-profit could help with more than just epilepsy cases.

“It became very apparent that we needed to change our name. There were people out there who could have needed our services,” she said, “and perhaps could have used our services but had no idea what we did.”

The current re-branding will mean more than just the name change. A new logo and new sign will be unveiled in the near future, said Palmer.

Council President Jake Day said after the presentation that he was impressed with UNA and eager to help spread the word.

“This is an opportunity for us to talk and hear about what you’re doing and ask a few questions and that will lead,” he said, “I would hope, into new partnerships in our community.”

Day admitted that he hadn’t realized all that the non-profit did until hearing it firsthand.

“I think our community is incredibly appreciative of what you do and I didn’t realize until my first meeting with you how broad the range is of services you provide to the community,” Day said.

Once re-branding is in full-swing, likely by September, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell invited UNA back to update the council on their progress.