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Albuquerque Region Client ProfileGreat Livin’, LLC

Great Livin'

Company gives developmentally disabled the 'dignity of risk.'

As a therapist working with adults with developmental disabilities, Matt Poel was often frustrated by the limitations he saw imposed on his clients by the agencies that provided their residential care.

“It was so restrictive,” says Poel, 34, who admits to being a long-time champion of the underdog. “I kept thinking, `Just let them try it! Who cares?’”

Giving people that “dignity of risk,” became the mission behind Great Livin’, a two-year-old venture by Poel and his business partner, Steve Nadolny, that provides residential care for adults on New Mexico’s DD (developmental disability) waiver. The business took on its first client in August of 2008 and moved into the WESST Enterprise Center in April of 2009. Great Livin’ now has 22 employees, operates two homes in Albuquerque with three residents each and is looking to open a third residence later this year.

“We saw flaws in how this population of people was being supported and we’re trying to create a different culture,” says Nadolny, 46. “There’s a lot of blanket `You can’t do that,’ philosophies out there. We want to create one where people are encouraged rather than punished.”

However, with little experience maneuvering the complicated legal restrictions imposed by the state on residential agencies and the consequent liabilities, Poel, the self-described “visionary” and Nadolny, the “business head,” experienced a steep learning curve. Connecting with WESST made getting their business off the ground easier and more organized.

“There is a foundation here to help build your own foundation,” says Poel, referring to both the infrastructure of the businenss incubator and the connections with networking resources available to its residents. “Without the help we’ve received, everything would have been much more hodge-podge.”

The first thing the organization did was “force us to create a business plan,” says Poel with a grimace. It next provided access to various networking sources – among them, an attorney and a human resources expert to help with employee issues.

Being located in the business center also gave Great Livin’ a more professional image, says Nadolny, who was accustomed to training employees and doing interviews in the garage of Poel’s house (where their original office was located) or at a local coffee shop.

Last year, the partners were able to begin to paying themselves back their initial investments of $15,000 each. With WESST’s help, they have now created a 10-year business plan that calls for opening two more houses each year, to a maximum of about 12. All the houses will be located in areas were there is easy access to public transportation and merchants within walking distance to encourage residents integration in the neighborhood.

“We never want to get so big that we lose sight of our mission,” says Nadolny. “The most important thing is that we build this foundation on our beliefs and the culture we want to create.”