A safe space: Noblesville family to open social recreational center for young adults with developmental disabilities


By Haley Miller

Grace Ponto, who is on the autism spectrum, has two years before she ages out of the school system. Her parents tried searching for a day center in the area she could attend after graduation, but there were no nearby options for young adults like Grace.

“There are adult day centers for elderly, but that is not the facility we thought she would thrive best in,” said Maureen Ponto, Grace’s mom. “We got a little frustrated and disappointed, so we decided to just take matters in our own hands and open a center ourselves.”

Maureen and David Ponto plan to open Grace’s Oasis, a social recreational center for young adults with developmental disabilities, in Noblesville by the end of August. It is designed to offer caregivers extra help during the day and provide a safe space for clients. Maureen is the organization’s executive director.

Developmental disabilities encompass a range of conditions that may be physical, mental or behavioral. Grace’s Oasis will offer services to people like Grace on the autism spectrum but also people with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, learning disorders and more.

Priced at $100 for a full day and $50 for a half day, the center features a person-centered intake process, during which the client can decide what works best for their support plan, Maureen said. Group activities, for example, are voluntary.

“In their individual support plan, we will focus on what people want to do,” Maureen said. “It is all up to them.”

David Ponto, assistant director and Grace’s dad, said the space includes a media room, lounge area, library and gym room, but the activities are subject to change depending on the participants’ interests.

Although Grace’s Oasis is a social recreational center and not a medical center, David said he will provide training for staff on certain health issues because he also works as a registered nurse.

The center cannot offer medical treatment but can assist with daily life skills such as toileting and mobility.

“We’re just looking to be able to provide a safe place that people can be reassured that their loved ones are going to be taken care of,” David said.

Full days at the center will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with lunch and snacks included and transportation offered at an additional cost. Maureen said Grace’s Oasis wants to coordinate group outings and start a garden in the spring. She said the mission of Grace’s Oasis is to allow likeminded individuals to build friendships and feel safe, nurtured and loved.

“We want to integrate everybody so it’s inclusive for all,” Maureen said. “We want to make sure that our participants get to have the exact same choices and same good life that anybody else has the right to.”

 For more, visit Grace’s Oasis on Facebook.

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Isabel Riordan pushes her sister Grace on the swing.

Grace’s input 

Grace Ponto, for whom Grace’s Oasis is named, helped choose many of the activities at the social recreational center for young adults with developmental disabilities.

“A lot of the activities that we have are things that we know she enjoys,” said David Ponto, Grace’s father. “We discovered at a young age, for some reason, that she loves to play air hockey. So, we have an air hockey table there that she will spend all day at if you let her.

Grace is on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, so David said they have to learn her likes and dislikes through other cues.

“She loves the swing,” David said. “We have a big, giant swing in the back room. That’s another one of her favorites.”