Mom Grows Connecting Point of Park Cities To Help Adults Like Her Son

JoAnn Ryan

In 2005, JoAnn Ryan’s youngest son, Ryan Albers, incurred a traumatic brain injury during a ski trip at the age of 17.

Students in Texas can attend public school through the age of 21 if they are disabled or have cognitive differences. When Albers aged out of the Highland Park High School transition class, Ryan went looking for a new program for her son — and was surprised to not find anything.

“At a Special Education Parent Action Committee conference, I passed around a piece of paper that read, ‘This is my situation: There’s no place for my son with this type of disability. Would anyone be interested in helping me start an option?’” Ryan said.

That’s when Ryan started Connecting Point of Park Cities. Founding board members included a doctor, HPISD’s head of special services, and others who signed Ryan’s interest form. Ryan also got teachers on board to develop curriculum. 

“We had about three years of putting together a model that could be supported financially and had the components we wanted,” she said. “We opened in 2014, so this is our 10-year anniversary.”

As Connecting Point of Park Cities grew, so did the volunteer presence and programming such as adaptive yoga, adaptive tennis, martial arts, art, and music.

“They participate at whatever level they can, from observing and listening to fully participating,” Ryan said. “We try to make every day purposeful and meaningful in these lives because it’s a very easily forgotten population. They have a lot to give and a lot for us to learn from.”

Connecting Point of Park Cities is located at University Park United Methodist Church and partners with Hyer Elementary and businesses in Preston Center. Celebrity athletes such as Clayton Kershaw, Roger Staubach, Jason Garrett, and Michael Young have also worked with the program.

There are about 50 enrolled in the Monday through Friday program, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The age range is generally 21 to late 40s.

“We’ll probably age along with that and learn how to handle the next stage of life,” Ryan said, noting that her son is now 35 and plans to continue participating.

The nonprofit hosts a large fundraiser each April known as Hope Fest. The team partners with the Harwood Group, which has given them a venue for the last four years. 

This April will mark their third Hope Fest held at Happiest Hour. Funds raised contribute to operating costs for the nonprofit and its enrollment.

“Our fees are very low, and we wouldn’t make that a barrier,” Ryan said, describing tuition costs. “If you receive funds from the state, as my son does, then we wouldn’t charge in addition to that fee.”

Ryan says she got a late entry to the special needs experience in Highland Park and has learned through her journey.

“It’s been pretty incredible how welcomed Ryan has been in settings that I was very cautious about,” she said. “It’s been a good learning curve for me.” 

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