Ten years ago, when Scott Matteson started working as a children’s administrator for the nonprofit agency Downeast Horizons, it was housed in a 250-square-foot office in Brewer.
Next year, the nonprofit will complete construction of an 8,400-square-foot addition to its current 5,000-square-foot building where the agency holds support programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities. It’s part of an expansion that will more than double the organization’s physical footprint and grow its staff by 30 percent.
Downeast Horizons provides support to people with autism and other disabilities through daytime programs at the Brewer location on Dirigo Drive, in group homes in Bar Harbor, Hancock and Ellsworth and at about 20 adult foster care homes — where adults with disabilities live in the homes of the people who offer daily support to them.
“All the treatments are based upon the individual needs,” said Anthony Zambrano, Downeast Horizons’ executive director. “We offer life skills support, training and community integration.”
Zambrano said all clients have a personalized plan designed to help them become better at completing day-to-day activities with which they need assistance. For example, if an adult needs help cooking, staff will work with them on that skill by demonstrating it and providing hands-on help.
The need for the building expansion stems from an unprecedented increase in the past few years in the number of clients who attend programs at the Brewer facility, where Downeast Horizons hosts a children’s program and two programs for adults.
In 2016, the organization served 15 adults and 30 children and had about 20 employees, Zambrano said. Now, the agency serves almost 60 adults and 60 children and has 65 employees. It expects to add 20 employees to its staff over the next year or so, he said, to accommodate the increased demand for its programs.
When the nonprofit first bought land on Dirigo Drive in Brewer in 2016, Zambrano planned for an eventual expansion, but both adult and children’s programs grew much faster than expected due to a combination of referrals from caseworkers who work with people with disabilities and because of word-of-mouth recommendations from program participants.
“I anticipated that we would be looking at building an addition within the next five years,” Zambrano said. “Within three years, construction has started.”
Children work one-on-one with Downeast Horizons staff members, who lead them through educational activities such as learning about one new country every month and engaging hobbies such as building LEGO houses.
Adults spend more time at the facility, usually in small groups participating in activities such as puzzles and games. The day program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the evening program from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Downeast Horizons staff take children and adults on day trips to Bangor or Brewer for swimming and athletic activities, to local fairs and to Bar Harbor for boat cruises.
The expansion will add four program rooms, four offices, four bathrooms, a conference meeting room and an indoor gymnasium to the facility.
“We designed the building based upon the feedback from the staff and the program participants,” Zambrano said.
The current building has four program rooms and nine offices.