Reeve Spotlight: Liberty Place, Inc.

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 08, 2016 # Quality of Life

In the small, rural town of Whitehall, Montana, (population 1,000), four women decided to come together to create a better life for people who were affected by brain injury. In 1996, the women founded Liberty Place, a non-profit organization that provides residential services and life skills training to improve independence and quality of life for individuals with brain injuries.

“Montana has one of the highest incidences of brain injury per capita in the country,” said Ann Geiger, co-founder and executive director of Liberty Place, Inc. “People in Montana are highly independent. Many participate in risky recreational activities or work in industries like logging and construction where there can be a higher occurrence of injury. Our goal was to address long-term needs by teaching people how to live with their injury and how to move forward.”

In addition to offering three adaptive and supportive residential facilities, Liberty Place also operates Whitehall Public Transportation, the only ADA-compliant public transportation in the 1,600 square mile rural service area.

“Our organization made a commitment to travel services when we decided to locate our facility in a small community,” said Geiger. “We knew there would be the need to transport people to specialty care, rehabilitation and other activities.”

Then when a local senior center decided they could no longer manage their transport operation, they asked Liberty Place to take it on.

“As the needs for the transportation program grew, we opened it up to other members of the community, giving seniors and people with disabilities priority,” said Geiger. “We had a fleet of small vehicles to use but many were quite run down. Given our rural nature, it is not unusual for our vehicles to travel 60,000 miles a year.”

When the organization looked into replacing an 18-year-old bus through a state grant support program, a grant contractor suggested that Geiger contact the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

“Grant requirements from the Montana Department of Transportation stipulate a 14% match, which is $7,757.54 of the $55,411 grant award to purchase a new ADA-compliant 12-passenger para-transit bus,” said Geiger. “We did some community outreach, then we applied for a Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant and secured the needed support for the match.”

The new, state-of-the-art para-transit bus will be custom built to include the flexibility to accommodate up to four wheelchairs. The bus will also include extra storage space for groceries and fishing poles.

“In addition to medical and vocational appointments, we also transport people to activities that improve their quality of life,” said Geiger. “Sometimes that means trips to Walmart for an afternoon of shopping. Sometimes we take people to recreation activities at a campground or park to enjoy a picnic or fishing. And sometimes we just get out to experience and enjoy this beautiful place by going for a drive to look at the stars.”

The goal of the new bus is to provide wheelchair accessibility lifts, safe and efficient transportation, courteous service, capable drivers, convenience, curb-to-curb service and personalized door-to-door service for an estimated 500 people with disabilities, as well as seniors and all members of the community.

“As is our tradition for naming our vehicles, we have decided to name the new bus ‘Clark’ after ‘Clark Kent’ of superman fame in honor of the Reeve Foundation support,” said Geiger. “We have big things planned for Clark when it arrives, including covering it with a large cape and hosting a big ceremony to roll the bus out into the community.”

If the bus arrives on time, it will also be featured in the community’s Frontier Days parade held in July.

“This new bus means so much to our community,” said Geiger. “The Reeve Foundation was fabulous to work with. They were very accommodating and attentive to our questions and needs. We would not have been able to get the new vehicle without their support.”

With a long waiting list of potential residents, Liberty Place plans to expand the program to an additional ranch property about 50 miles away.