Dec. 7—Puzzle Pieces announced the expansion of its Owen Autism Center (OAC), made possible by a $400,000 grant from the Hager Foundation, during its 10th anniversary celebration Tuesday night at the RiverPark Center.
The grant is the largest gift in the foundation's history, according to Executive Director Keith Sanders.
"The foundation's mission through this period has been focused on helping our community improve opportunities for every child in Daviess County," Sanders said. "This reflects a 100-year Hager family legacy of concern for our community's most vulnerable children."
Sanders the grant will help Puzzle Pieces address a "compelling need."
"This reflects the confidence we have in their board of directors, administration, staff and mission," he said. "This gift will enable this wonderful organization to expand and continue its exceptional services in the days and years to come."
According to Puzzle Pieces, OAC is the region's only targeted autism programming and serves children with autism beginning at 18 months old to 21 years old.
The grant funding will go towards relocating the OAC, which is currently at Puzzle Pieces' New Hartford Road campus. The new location will be across the street in the former Rite-Aid building.
"When we moved to our building in 2019, I thought the 27,000 square feet would be plenty of space for our clients," said Amanda Owen, executive director of Puzzle Pieces. "We have grown exponentially in three years and are at capacity for services. With our waitlist growing every day, we had to find a solution."
Puzzle Pieces' strategic plan for 2023 included the expansion, but the grant funding will be able to help the organization accelerate the timeline.
OAC has 36 clients using its services, but according to Puzzle Pieces, that number is projected to triple in the next three years.
"Larry (Hager) believed that every child, regardless of their circumstances, should have access to good health care, have a fair opportunity to succeed in school and that each one could become a productive and contributing member in our society," Sanders said. "That is our community's responsibility, to ensure that those opportunities are there for every child."
Looking ahead into the next 10 years, Puzzle Pieces has already set goals to begin achieving.
Those include developing a training internship program/center for those with disabilities to earn certificates catered to mastering a job in the community; re-establish a peer mentoring program for school-aged students to volunteer alongside clients; and strengthen national network of advocates supporting those with disabilities to bring awareness to Puzzle Pieces and Owensboro.