Chris Lyons is the Esquire CEO of AIM Services in Saratoga Springs, NY. AIM Services was founded in 1979 by a group of parents who wanted community based services for their children with developmental disabilities. It has grown geometrically over the years & they now have just under 4,000 employees who support people with developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries & those who are duly diagnosed with mental health issues. Some services are offered 24/7/365 in Warren, Washington & Saratoga Counties, but they extend as far south as Long Island with their self directed services.
Chris joined AIM Services 9 years ago. Prior to that, he served on their Board of Directors while he was a Partner at a litigation firm where he represented people with developmental disabilities across the country. Coming from a different background, Chris credits strong administrative & leadership teams, as well as mentors & other business leaders, who have helped him to grow AIM Services. Part of the growth has included a paradigm shift in the way those services are provided. They operate with a support model where people will design their own support & AIM Services transcends their challenges & looks at their wants, needs, desires, passions, intentionality's & more.
AIM Services supports 300 - 400 individuals, and over 150 people residentially in 26+ settings that are certified with the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. They also have 1600 participants in their self directed model. In addition to residential services, they also provide day services and an employee program.
Chris is very proud of their employment program & the idea that everyone can be employed with a better than minimum wage job. They work to make everyone competent at something & to integrate them into the community thru gainful employment. Work is a big part of the dignity of being human & AIM Services works to make individuals included in this way. They have people working in both small & large businesses throughout the Capital Region as cashiers, clerks, breweries, animal shelters & more.
Chris finds the area to be a good fit for the work they do thanks to the Capital Region's acceptance & engagement. They find their business partners are very supportive & he's seeing a mindset change that the people they support are entitled to, & want to, be part of the community. It's important that people aren't stigmatized as being special or different. They want people to be seen as people, individuals with challenges - which we all have!
There are many progressive state run operations that are driven to provide greater independence, a lesser restrictive environment, the dignity of risk, allowing people with challenges who are experience poor to become experience rich & more. We all learn thru making mistakes. Trying to shield someone with a disability from making an error or mistake does not allow them to grow. New York is just turning the corner on this. There is a big initiative in the legislature now to deregulate many of the things that are offered under the Office of People with Development Disabilities & others. While they are well intentioned health & safety measures, they don't allow for the dignity of risk. This is how AIM Services moves forward. They are not agency driven or focused on regulation, but rather people & outcomes while still remaining in compliance. They focus on getting someone where they want to go & how they get around restrictive bureaucratic measures. At AIM, they never say no, they always say how.
Just like everyone else, COVID had an affect on AIM Services. With some of the people they serve being medically fragile, immunocompromised or having trouble processing mandates put in place by our public health officials, they were faced with the heightened challenge. They worked to educate people on why the different measures were in place & they got ahead of the curve with their PPE & disinfecting needs. They formed a task force & created siloed teams to have a better control on potential exposures & quarantine. Their teams wore masks, face shields & full PPE during the height of the pandemic. Amazingly, they are able to report that they had no COVID cases. Chris credits that to getting ahead of the pandemic & having a measured response put together with their health care coordinators, RNs, LPNs & more. They had plans in place for their staff should someone test positive for COVID (or have an exposure) that would shift support so no one would miss an opportunity to engage their community. They also shifted many of their day services that were mandated to close, over to the residences which allowed them to have teams to control any potential exposures or quarantine. It worked extremely well & required a lot of dedication & sacrifice by their employees. AIM Services never closed during the pandemic.
In the next 5 years, Chris hopes to continue seeing less restrictive environments with more independence. He hopes for more growth, less group home settings, and hopes to see people owning their own homes or collectively use their resources to share their services. AIM Services just launched a See Me program where the people they support witnessing & representing their position on how they're viewed by society. They're then asking society to transcend their challenges & "see me".