Making A Difference: Pam Denzler, founder of A Place 2B ME
Many of us have heard of services available for those aging out of foster care, but what about services for those with special needs aging out of high school who are losing their social life connections? When Pam Denzler’s nephew, Thomas, was graduating from high school in 2012, she wondered the same thing.
Without finding a local resource, Pam, an occupational therapist by trade, founded A Place 2B ME, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help those with disabilities explore what they enjoy, connect with others and participate in activities of their choosing.
Pam, who lives in Westlake, founded A Place 2B ME with 40 years of occupational therapy (OT) experience, including health care, nursing homes and group homes.
“My work motivated me to start A Place 2B ME. People were always deciding the leisure activities for the clients. I’d ask myself, ‘How do you know that’s what they want to do?’ I wanted to empower those with special needs to figure out what they wanted. I developed a Leisure Interest Inventory to help them explore,” says Pam.
“An occupational therapist meets people where they are at and modifies and adapts tools/strategies to increase one’s independence in all areas of their life. While this usually involves basic skills, one area we specialize in is leisure activities. We meet these young adults with special needs where they are at, help them identify their own likes and interests and empower them to create connections, ideally with others of similar age, to pursue those passions,” says Pam.
Pam was inspired by three significant people in her life – her twin sister, Paula, who spent her life in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy; her autistic son Lucas; and her nephew, Thomas.
“Paula was Miss Social. In her wheelchair, she’d finagle her way to the park to meet other women. Those women befriended her and accepted her for who she was. I wanted to create that opportunity for others with disabilities as making connections is so important,” says Pam. “Paula also helped me better understand the struggles families with disabilities go through. At times, I felt ‘pushed aside.’ I needed my own identity with my likes and interests acknowledged. That is why I named my organization A Place 2B ME.”
Not all those with special needs are social. Pam’s nephew, Thomas, was a quiet soul with a few friends. When he graduated high school, he lost his daily social life.
“While Thomas adapted by creating many friends on social media, we asked Thomas to walk with another young man that wore sound deafening headphones due to his disability. Thomas walked beside him silently. Eventually, this young man took off his headphones and continued their walk. Thomas guided me so much to let people be themselves,” says Pam.
For example, Pam’s son Lucas had a love of woodworking. “Inspired by the Buddy Bench concept, we encouraged Lucas to build a wooden bench. Lucas felt good accomplishing the task. It calmed him. He was engaged. We took it to school for other kids to paint and donated it to an elementary school,” says Pam.
Resident of Bay Village since 1987.