15 Years of Hope: Making ABA Therapy Accessible for Thousands of Families
March 16, 2020
March 16, 2020
What started as a summer job for one woman ultimately took a few twists to influence the lives of thousands around the nation. This may sound like the start to a movie, but this was the beginning of a dedicated and impactful career at Hopebridge for long-term team member, Angie Graff.
After taking a summer break from her work in the special education department at her kids’ school, she took a job as an ABA therapist at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers (at the time, it was known as Homefront Learning Center) in Kokomo, Indiana. She worked alongside Hopebridge Founder Kim Strunk, who was the clinic’s only occupational therapist at the time.
Married to her high school sweetheart and a mother of two boys, Angie was drawn to Hopebridge because one of her sons is on the spectrum.
“Back when we started noticing some of his challenges, applied behavior analysis was not readily available and centers like Hopebridge didn’t exist,” said Angie. “I remember being given my son’s diagnosis without receiving any follow-up resources or therapy options. I feel the purpose of my job is to make sure our Hopebridge kiddos and their parents never have the same problem.”
Originally intending to serve a few months, the work stuck with her. She helped open Hopebridge’s first Marion clinic, with only one kiddo and one therapist…which was her! As the center grew, so did her caseload, and they relocated more than once to keep up with the growth.
A few years into her role as an ABA therapist, Angie decided she wanted to go back to school. Her schedule changed each semester, which became difficult alongside her caseload. In order to provide continuity of care for her kiddos, rather than seeing a different therapist on different days, Hopebridge leadership offered her a new position working in authorizations for therapy. She quickly moved the role forward, training herself in insurance authorizations and scheduling, ultimately building Hopebridge’s credentialing and insurance departments. She is currently the Hopebridge credentialing manager.
Angie was able to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology, all while working at Hopebridge and raising children of her own.
“Kim and Herb, who is now our Chief Administrative Officer, were amazing throughout the process and never questioned my reasons or whether it was possible. They told me to give them my schedule and to come and go as I needed for school, plus not to answer my phone if they called during class,” said Angie. “They felt my education was more important and if it hadn’t been for that benefit, I would not have gotten my degree, which is something I always wanted to do. It helped me work with my team and evolve with Hopebridge.”
Angie believes starting on the therapy side of Hopebridge is what has kept her with the autism network for so long, as she has seen the power of its programs in action.
For instance, she remembers working for weeks with a little girl to say, “mama,” and the chills she felt when she took her out to her parents, prompted her, and that mother got to hear her daughter call her “mama” for the first time.
While working with another girl on fine motor skills by encouraging her to pop bubbles, this child said her first word. They started signing “bubbles” and eventually she started saying it out loud! After that day, she would do anything for bubbles and once Angie introduced them as a reinforcer, her program took off.
“My son is on the spectrum, but experienced more of the social and pragmatic challenges, so it has always been my pleasure to help parents whose children may not be verbal or able to give them a hug. I am grateful to have been able to help families experience those things.”
Angie played with sand alongside a little boy for two months in preparation for his family vacation to Florida. To combat his fear of sand, she set up a play pool with sand and water and worked with him to place in his feet. He did not like it, but each day he went further and further, slowly building his tolerance up to 20 minutes; eventually content with sitting in it!
“We were able to tell his mom, ‘he’s ready,’ and they went on to have a great vacation. She sent me a video of him playing in the Florida sand. It was priceless,” said Angie. “If parents ask for help with something, we make it happen. We aim to make life more fun for kids.”
Angie’s other fond memories include teaching a boy to skip and ride a tricycle. She also remembers a girl who was non-verbal with some challenging behaviors, but would calm down and get back to her program when she heard music from Taylor Swift.
As much as Hopebridge has grown, diagnostic services have become more accessible, and therapy programs have enhanced over the past 15 years, Angie says the commitment to these children and families remains.
“Though the faces we see change over time, the goal and desire to improve the lives of our children never changes and the dedication of our team never waivers,” said Angie. “The people who work here have a special place in their hearts for these kids and the desire to help them. For us, it is not about the expansion; it’s what we can do and where we can help next.”
As if we needed more reasons to sing Angie’s praises, we turned to Kim to share what it is like to work with her.
“Angie is incredibly loyal and flexible. From working as a therapist to managing multiple centers to credentialing, she has worked in so many roles within Hopebridge and has been an integral part of our team since we started,” said Kim. “She has a big heart for serving these families and her commitment and dedication to the work makes her the epitome of our mission.”
As Hopebridge continues to expand this year (and counting!), Angie and her team continue to help families around the country get the services their children need. Whether through a diagnostic evaluation for autism spectrum disorder or ABA therapy, contact us to get the services to give your child the best chance at a fulfilling, independent life.
For those who are inspired by Angie’s story and interested in growing their own careers with Hopebridge, visit our job board to view the available positions.
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