Executive director of Abilities First: ‘This is a bright, new day for us’

Middletown non-profit hopes 65th anniversary gala raises money to improve Welcome Center.

MIDDLETOWN — As Abilities First celebrates its 65th year of operating in Middletown, now is the time to remember the past and look forward to the future, said Executive Director David Hood.

The non-profit that serves children with autism and different abilities in three key programs has been awarded the highest distinction by the state of Ohio, created a 2024-26 Strategic Plan, increased teacher wages, and is planning its 65th Anniversary Gala it hopes generates $100,000 that will help pay for major improvements to the Welcome Center and building security measures.

Hood, 52, former executive director at Serve City in Hamilton, was hired at Abilities First one year ago. At the time, the agency was facing “a season of challenges” after coming out of COVID-19 and losing its longtime executive director, Jan Rosebrough, who died during the summer of 2022.

“It was time to refocus,” Hood said. “Time to settle the ship down.”

The executive team and staff at Abilities First worked with OneSource Center for Nonprofit Excellence for eight months to create a three-year Strategic Plan. The goal was to provide “service excellence” with financial responsibility, he said.

The staff performed “a space audit” that looked at the best ways to use every inch of the building. Some of the rooms were being used for storage, Hood said. Some rooms were converted into classrooms.

The Autism Learning Center has recently opened a new specialized classroom for children on the moderate to intensive area of the autism spectrum. In that classroom, there is one teacher for every two students.

“We’re laser focused on those kids,” Hood said.

He said Abilities First offers an Early Childhood Learning Center, Autism Learning Center, and Pediatric Therapies Department.

Last year, Abilities First had 38 staff members. Now it has 52, according to Hood. One early childhood teacher, with six years experience, saw her hourly pay jump from $11.33 to $15.50, he said. This year Abilities First has invested $130,000 more in payroll.

“You have to take care of the people who take care of the people,” he said.

When the center looked at why it wasn’t profitable, it determined more students needed to enroll. But before that could happen, more teachers needed hired. That meant increased wages.

“Investing in them had immediate returns for us,” he said.

Now the Early Childhood Learning Center has immediate openings in its 18-month to 4-year-old program.

Last month, that center received a 5 Star Step Up To Quality, the highest designation of quality and excellence from the Ohio Department Jobs and Family Services.

The gala is set for Oct. 21 at Brown’s Run Country Club in Middletown. The goal is to raise $100,000 that will help offset the $250,000 renovation of the canopy and Welcome Center. Hood said $170,000 of the $250,000 has already been secured.

The renovations to the building that opened in 1958 are important because “first impressions matter,” Hood said.

He said Abilities First is trying to “tell our story” and earn the trust of those who are reluctant of financially supporting non-profits.

“This is a bright new day for us,” he said. “We want our staff to think forward again. Dream big dreams. Think about the future.”


WHAT: Abilities First 65th Anniversary Gala

WHEN: 6 p.m. Oct. 21

WHERE: Brown’s Run Country Club, 6855 Sloebig Road, Middletown

MORE INFORMATION: Call Mariette Wade at 513-423-9496


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