The Tailor Institute celebrates 20 years, introduces new director
Saturday, September 2, 2023
The Tailor Institute, founded in 2003, started as one father’s dream for a place where his son and other young adults with autism could enhance their strengths and grow in independence. He wanted a place that provided clinical services, but also felt like a home. That father was Dr. David Crowe, whose dream has transformed into a thriving not-for-profit that celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
Located on 528 Helena Ave., just off Broadway in Cape Girardeau, The Tailor Institute (TTI) provides programs designed to enrich and enhance the lives of participants with autism and other developmental disabilities — ages 15 and older. Clinical Director Rhonda Overbeck says their programs focus on three areas of life: social, vocational and independence.
“[We want to help our participants] be as independent as they can possibly be. Whatever that next step is, helping them work their way to that,” Overbeck said.
Overbeck says the not-for-profit expanded programming significantly over the last few years, and tailors programs to individuals’ needs and interests. One of their popular programs, Work IT!, is focused on vocational skills for participants who are employed or seeking employment.
Another new program Overbeck is excited about is Love & Friendship on the Spectrum, which is focused on addressing friendship and relationship building skills.
The Tailor Institute now accepts participants from Scott and Mississippi Counties, along with Cape Girardeau County. To increase access to their services, Overbeck says they offer hybrid services over Zoom.
Before participants join in the fun with TTI’s many programs, they are comprehensively assessed. This assessment allows staff to identify a participants’ strengths and opportunities for growth. Right now, Executive Director Angie Graviett says TTI is completing two assessments on new participants each month.
Graviett officially took over as Executive Director in July 2023. Prior to taking the position, she worked as assessment coordinator for TTI. Carissa Tracy, TTI’s former executive director, came into the position over 9 years ago.
Tracy says the organization has grown significantly, as TTI is now seeing close to 50 participants in a given month and the staff has grown to over 20 people. New funding from the DMH/Medicaid Waiver program via Catholic Charities of Southeastern Missouri, has allowed TTI to accept Medicaid Waiver candidates and broadened the scope of who can utilize services. She also says "a lifeline to our growth" has been a grant awarded for the last three years by the Cape Girardeau County Board for Developmentally Disabled (SB40 Board). But the success of TTI has not been without trials.
"Immediately upon taking over, we suffered the loss of Dr. David Crowe, and while we mourned his loss, it made the staff and Board of Directors even more determined to succeed. The second major trial was in 2017, when we lost 100% of state funding, which threatened to close our doors,” Tracy said. “TTI turned to the community for support and raised the funds necessary to keep the doors open. This in turn proved the resiliency of our team and caused us to cast a wider net for additional funding opportunities, which in turn has allowed us to grow and help more people than we were able to before the loss.”
With TTI on track for continual growth, Tracy knew for the last few years she needed to find the next executive director.
Tracy remembers one conversation with former Senator Jason Crowell, who was instrumental in getting The Tailor Institute initial state funding in 2008. Tracy said, "I asked Jason something along the lines of, how will I find the right person to care for TTI like Dr. Crowe did?" He responded, "Just run it as well as you can and as long as you can, and there will be someone else!" Knowing that Crowell spoke directly and sincerely, she took that advice to heart. Years later, Graviett joined TTI.
She knew Graviett was that “right person” she’d been waiting for, someone who cared and held TTI’s mission in her heart. Graviett has worked with children with special needs most of her career in public schools. She says she’s always “had a passion” for individuals with autism, but more recently, that passion has become personal.
“[My husband and I] have four grandchildren and one of those grandchildren was diagnosed in 2022 with autism,” Graviett said. “He is 3 ½ years old now. … So obviously, within the last few years my heart for autism has grown, and I just want The Tailor Institute to continue to grow, ‘cause I want us to be here when my grandson is old enough, so he will be able to utilize these services.”
Graviett says The Tailor Institute is a family, and their new location, which they moved into last year, feels like home. It has a front porch, a kitchen for cooking, a clubhouse space and a large common area for everyone to gather in. It’s an inviting and welcoming space, exactly what The Tailor Institute hopes to be for its participants.
Tracy says once participants graduate from the program, they still come back to visit. In June, Tracy says they hosted a “family dinner,” with tables lined down the driveway to accommodate all the staff members, participants and alumni who showed up.
"There is a future here. It is a place for all of the participants to find a home," Tracy said. "This is their place."
If interested in donating to The Tailor Institute, learning more about their services or getting involved with fundraisers, contact them on their website at thetailorinstitute.org.