When Peter Odell saw retirement on the horizon, he didn’t envision himself relax-ing in a recliner and watching television. He didn’t start researching time-shares or hip senior living communities. No, not that. Instead, he opened a non-profit, Angels Life Skills Center, for teenagers and young adults with special needs.
Odell has worn many hats in his life, among them a machinist in Silicon Valley where he built a space shuttle still hanging out somewhere on the moon, a military submarine driver during the Reagan years, a commercial health physicist, and an IT architect for the health care industry.
“After all the years of working different places and doing different things, I wanted to do something with my wife,” he says. And so, ten years after kindling a sweet friendship with Kaitlyn, a young girl with special needs he has since dubbed “Angel,” Peter and his wife began planning their retirement, one that looks quite different than most.
“Kaitlyn is a very gentle and wonderful little soul,” Peter says, his voice unpretentious and kind. He explains that Kaitlyn suffers from Rett syndrome, a neurological disease that causes severe issues in brain function.
Kaitlyn grew to be like a daughter to them, so when she came home from her day habilitation center with bruises, and eventually a broken leg, Peter and his wife made up their minds. “Now we know what we need to do, and we stepped in and decided we’d put together Angels Life Skills.”
They took what money they had and built a charity, then bought an old dance studio near Taylor High School that offered 4,000 square feet of space. They set it up and rebuilt it to function well for their purposes. And now, they, along with their staff of licensed professionals, are dedicating their retirement years to helping individuals and their families learn how to better adapt and manage everyday life with disabilities.
Angels Life Skills Center opened their doors in May in Katy and is slowly starting to build up a clientele. They offer services to anyone over the age of 14 with any kind of impairment and any level of functionality. The atmosphere is created to mimic a household. For meals, everyone cooks together, eats together, and cleans up together. They also create personalized curriculum for each student, which range from potty-training to reading to math feeding themselves, and work closely with family mem-bers to support them and teach strategies and techniques that will help their day go smoother. The center also charges per hour, rather than per week so the caretakers are only required to pay for the time they actually use.
“Our goal is to give these people some skills and training that they can use in everyday life, and if we can we’ll try to get them placed in jobs as we see that they’re capable of handling that sort of thing,” Odell said.
The Odells rely heavily on the expertise of professionals like Bonnie, who has worked with Kaitlyn for several years, and Megan, a Physical Therapy student at A&M who observes and attends PT appointments with clients, all of whom continue to work voluntarily until enough money can be raised to offer compensation.
And they’re starting to see some really positive results. Clients are starting to feel at home, meet-ing goals, and creating attachments. According to Odell, “Once you see a kid look at you and smile at your face, it changes everything.”
“The idea is not to keep these kids under a bushel basket. What we want to do is let their light shine,” Peter explains. “We want our outreach to be that people understand that these are people. They’re not that different.”
If you are interested in volunteering or making a physical or monetary donation, please contact the center at (281) 717-4870.