By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
There are board games to play, movies to watch and a lot of camaraderie for clients of Flag City Champions.
The business at 1333 Lima Ave. provides a place where adult men with disabilities can come in the afternoon and evenings five days a week.
“It’s a guys’ club,” said owner David Seng.
“The main idea was just getting guys together to have fun, play some games, video games, order pizza and just have a cool guy’s night out,” he said.
Seng, 25, said his own family experiences may have led him down a career path to helping those with special needs; his younger brother, Mike, has autism.
“He’s pretty high functioning,” Seng said.
“When he got diagnosed, he was definitely socially awkward. He had a real difficult time connecting with others.”
Eventually, Mike Seng attended Special Kids Therapy, an agency that provides services and programs for families with children with special health care needs.
Seng said after his brother got involved with the agency, “it was just a night and day difference.”
“He never had a social life prior to Special Kids Therapy. Then he started making friends, coming home telling everyone about so and so, and ‘We did this. We played hide and seek. We went swimming,'” said Seng.
Seng didn’t initially consider a career in special needs. Born and raised in Findlay, he graduated from Findlay High School in 2009 and began college at the Lima branch of Ohio State University where he majored in biology.
“I was doing all right, but I didn’t enjoy it,” he said.
Then he toured the University of Findlay and became interested in the equestrian program.
“I’m like, man I really like this. I love animals. I want to get involved with this. So the plan was to become a veterinarian,” said Seng.
While he was a student at Findlay, he started volunteering with Special Kids Therapy. He later became the program director and still serves on the agency’s board.
“It got to the point where I was volunteering a lot. Then someone brought up, ‘hey, would you like to get paid for this kind of work?’ I’m like, you can get paid? What?” he said.
Halfway through college, he decided he loved his job with Special Kids Therapy.
“And from there I decided I wanted to serve more than one individual at a time. I’d wanted to be able to bring groups in and do fun stuff together,” he said.
Seng graduated in 2014 with a degree in animal science and a minor in equestrian studies, then became certified as an independent provider.
“Essentially I can provide any services for special needs individuals, either home health or respite care, so giving parents a break, taking them (the clients) out for recreational activities,” he explained.
His primary work has been in home health, but he’s also taken clients out for social outings including lunch and the movies.
Seng first wanted to start a day rehabilitation center where people with special needs come to work on daily living skills and social issues. He rented the former Special Kids Therapy building on Lima Avenue. Special Kids Therapy moved to Blanchard Valley Center in 2012.
He started looking for clients, but no one was interested in a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. program, he said.
“So I decided well, let’s start a Tuesday night thing, just to get the community involved,” said Seng. “We’ll make it so anybody can come, and we started off charging $5 for Tuesday nights, five hours of care.”
He said there was a lot of interest in those evening sessions.
“They want their sons out here for guy’s night. We can do it five nights a week,” he said.
The program started in August with sessions from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We fluctuate (in the) numbers attending,” he said.
Usually, two to eight people show up.
Each night also has a theme, he said. Monday is an adults-only game night.
“It’s a little more structured,” Seng said. “We’ll play more mature stuff or more complicated things. We might try Monopoly here and there, football games.”
Clients also help cook dinner.
Tuesdays have become kids’ night, Seng said.
“It’s not official, but most of them are 12 and under right now,” he said. “So it’s a lot more spontaneous. We might be playing a game over here. … Then they want to go over and hit the punching bag in the other room.”
“You have to be a lot more flexible those nights, but it’s a lot of fun, a lot of energy,” said Seng.
The staff takes clients swimming at Birchaven on Wednesdays.
“Then we come back here, cook a meal of some sort. The guys are actually really good at helping out with that,” he said. Meals have included chicken tacos, chili and spaghetti.
Seng said there are a few clients in particular who love cooking and are good cooks.
Thursdays are an outing of some sort. Currently it’s bowling, said Seng. But when the weather improves, he hopes to do more outdoor activities like fishing and going to parks in Hancock County. The evening continues with a trip to a restaurant for pizza, he said.
Friday night is movie night. Clients vote on which movie to watch. For dinner, they either cook or order out.
Seng said the business has been classified as a night rehabilitation center.
The idea is similar to a day center, he said.
“Most of what we focus on is the social aspect of things. Again, there’s some responsibility with cooking. We do our dishes and cleaning, that kind of thing,” he said.
Clients come from throughout Hancock County. Seng said ages range from 8 to 33 with disabilities including autism, Down syndrome and a traumatic brain injury.
“We have some guys who are pretty heavily dependent on most areas to others where you wouldn’t know any different from anybody else,” he said.
Mike Seng also comes and helps, he said.
“He’s the self-proclaimed manager,” Seng laughed. “When I opened up, he wanted to get involved, especially since some of the people that come here he already knew from Special Kids Therapy, so he helps watch after them.”
Seng currently has a one-to-one ratio of staff to clients.
“We’re probably going to cut back a little bit once we have a little better handle on everything,” he said. “A few people we’re still getting used to, and we like to give them extra care while they’re getting accustomed to this.”
The business is also open to new clients. Seng said the cap will be about eight people each night.
The goal is to expand, he said, and have to get a new, larger building by next year.
“They have a really good time,” said Seng. “I mean, it’s fun for everyone. It’s very difficult to call it work.”
He said he’s glad to be working with the special needs population.
“These guys show that there really is no excuse not to be able to do something. No matter what, they give everything they have in everything they do,” he said.
“Most people don’t give them enough credit and just assume ‘well you have special needs, you have this disability, I don’t expect you to be able to do it,'” he said. “My philosophy is you don’t change the bar for them. You set the bar wherever you set it for anybody else. It may take longer to get there. It may take some creative methods to get there, but don’t discount them as capable of anything less than anybody else.”