Trip to New York just part of activities offered by Options

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Luncheon on Thursday at Kettle Creek to highlight Options Unlimited

By Stephen Thomas

SHEPHERDSVILLE - True to its name, Options Unlimited offered the ultimate unlimited visit to the Big Apple.

A total of 34 Options clients and their families experienced a group bus trip to New York City.

Founded in 1985, Options Unlimited assists special needs clients featuring both a day program and supported employment program to help clients find sustainable jobs. Both day program and supported employment clients were allowed on the trip.

Shirley Bertelkamp, Options Board of Directors Vice-President, said the organization raised funds for more than two years to make the trip possible. Fundraisers included chili dinners, yard sales, bake sales and car shows.

A parent/guardian accompanied each client on the trip, paying their own way. Bertelkamp said parents were allowed to choose which guardian would attend.

Each Options client received $300 in spending money during their three days in New York.

“They bought some food and souvenirs, but the rest of the entire trip was free,” Bertelkamp said.

Options Day Program director Amy Coffer said the group did as much as possible in that time.

“We went to the Empire State Building at night,” she said. “We went to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the World Trade Center, FAO Schwartz and the American Museum of Natural History.”

The group also experienced a carriage ride through Central Park and gave out free hugs to the public while visiting Times Square. They shopped on 5th Avenue and even bought hot dogs from pushcarts.

“We really tried to make it a full New York Experience,” Coffer said.

According to Bertelkamp, the highlight was taking everyone to see The Lion King on Broadway. She mentioned positive feedback from show employees and others attending the show.

“We received compliments on how well-behaved they were,” Bertelkamp said.

“People would come out of their way to tell us how nice they were,” Coffer added. “We were very proud of them.”

Coffer recalled “nay-sayers” offering negativity, feeling that Options couldn’t take clients and their families on such a long trip. In six years, however, the group has also visited Branson, Gatlinburg and Disney World.

“This trip was perfect,” said Coffer. “Our job is to get these people out into the community to decrease the stereotype, and we did it.”

Bertelkamp said Toby Tours met with Options officials to detail the trip, including the addition of The Lion King. At the end of the trip Options clients gave Toby drivers and chaperones cards with signatures.

“They never received that before,” said Bertelkamp. “They were brought to tears.”

“We have a huge support system,” said Coffer. “It’s nice for our clients to be with their peers. They can relate. There was no reason to be afraid or fearful. We were one big family.”

The public has an opportunity to learn more about Options Unlimited programs during a lunch scheduled for Nov. 19 at Kettle Creek restaurant in Mount Washington.

For more information about Options Unlimited contact director Willie Byrd, 543-7271, or go to www.optionsunlimitedinc.org.