Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program celebrates 50th anniversary

MYEP’s 50th Anniversary & Summer Fest Fundraiser

Johnson County Fairgrounds, Building C — Saturday, August 18, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Service recipients and staff members of the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program celebrate 1,000 Facebook likes in a photo from their Facebook page, posted July 6, 2018.

It’s a quiet morning in the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program’s (MYEP) main building. Just a few staff members and service recipients were doing crafts and chatting in the colorful communal areas. That’s because most members of the Adult Day Program — which serves over 60 individuals with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities — were out exploring the Iowa River Landing. The Adult Day Program aims to have service recipients spend most of their day out in the community.

Charley Atkins was deciding on what activity she wanted to do. She works at Groovy Katz Salon and Spa, and said she loves being busy.

“[At MYEP], I like going on outings and going to Costco and museums. It’s really fun. I love my neighbors and my roommates,” Atkins said.

Jimmy Nunez was sitting with his roommates and coloring a picture of Captain America. He works at Scheel’s in Coralville. When asked what his favorite part about MYEP is, Nunez said, “Hanging out with my friends.”

Charley Atkins (left) and Jimmy Nunez (right) at the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program’s main building, July 25, 2018. — photos by Isabella Rosario

Founded in 1968, MYEP began as a federal initiative encouraging cities to provide summer employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth. MYEP operated through the Iowa City government until 1996, when it became a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. Since 2002, MYEP has been a service provider with the Iowa Medicaid Waiver Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). These services provide long-term care and support to people with disabilities in a non-institutional setting. In 2014, nearly 3.2 million people in the U.S. received services through Medicaid HCBS programs.

“We’re dedicated to providing advocacy and person-centered services which facilitate personal growth and community inclusion for people with disabilities,” Chief Program Officer Megan Gerber said.

Today, MYEP serves over 100 people with disabilities in its Adult Day Program and Residential Program. The Adult Day program, which provides activities for people 16 and older, operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Over 40 people are served in the Residential Program, which provides 16 homes in Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty. Residents live with roommates and have 24-hour staff available to them.

One of MYEP’s main goals is for its service recipients to be “viewed and engaged as members within the Iowa City community,” Gerber said. Members of the Residential Program live in typical neighborhoods, and they often volunteer with local organizations, like the Crisis Center, where they help stock shelves at the food bank. Service recipients have also volunteered at the Iowa City Animal Care & Adoption Center and the University of Iowa College of Engineering. Recently, MYEP welcomed RAGBRAI participants and passed out bottled water.

“Iowa City is an incredible community to be a part of,” Gerber said. “The local businesses and our neighbors who live next door to the people we provide services to just welcome us with open arms.”

The Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program welcomes RAGBRAI participants to Iowa City in a photo from their Facebook page, posted July 28, 2018.

Once a small, volunteer-run organization, MYEP now employs around 180 staff members. Gerber said MYEP has grown because “the need is there.” But even with that need for expansion, funding for services and needed architectural updates falls short. That’s why MYEP aims to meet a fundraising goal of $50,000 by its 50th anniversary celebration on August 18. So far, the organization has raised around $20,000.

“Our funding has decreased due to the changes in the [Iowa] managed care system and Medicaid. The reimbursement rates dropped significantly, especially with our adult day program,” Gerber said.

Iowa privatized its Medicaid system in 2016. Critics say the shift has led to cuts in services, and hundreds of Medicaid recipients have appealed to state officials for being wrongfully denied care.

To cope with falling reimbursement rates, MYEP has prioritized cutting staff hours with the least possible impact on services. This involves reducing support at times when service recipients are less active, like early in the morning. The organization is also advocating for higher reimbursement rates as a member of the Iowa Association of Community Providers.

“The families are having to appeal decisions to advocate for their children and get what is needed for them to be healthy and safe,” Gerber said. “Medications have been changed or denied coverage. I’ve had people whose wheelchairs need significant repair and that’s been continually denied.”

Gerber hopes that money raised for MYEP’s 50th Anniversary will help make improvements to the organization’s “outdated” main building on Highland Court.

“We would like to get better acoustics in so it’s not as loud. We would like new furniture—we want to make reading areas. We’ve applied for various technological grants that we haven’t been approved for…My dream is to have at least two to three working ovens and stoves and refrigerators so that we can do active cooking groups…Our bathrooms could be larger because it’s a tight fit for certain wheelchairs,” Gerber said.

MYEP’s 50th Anniversary & Summer Fest Fundraiser will take place on Saturday, August 18th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. There will be music, food, raffles, a silent auction and other family-friendly activities.

“Our big push this year with our 50th anniversary is to reach that $50,000 mark in which all of that money will go directly back to our service environments so that we can enhance the services we provide,” Gerber said.

A common area in the Mayor’s Youth Empowerment Program’s main building on July 25, 2018. — photo by Isabella Rosario