Camp Empower

Jon Williams, left, and Phil Givens man a booth at one of the many fairs as they start their journey with P & J's Life Skills, LLC. (Photo courtesy of Jon Williams, Homestead Publishing / July 18, 2013)

Many young adults fresh out of high school don't know what they want to do in life. Many go to college, others join the military and some immediately head to the working world.

Phil Givens and Jon Williams decided to start their own business, P&J's Life Skills, to provide respite care to people with special needs.

At first, Williams' parents were skeptical, asking if it was really something he wanted to do.

"At first they didn't see it," Williams said. "At first we didn't really see it. It was like, OK, if we waste a year, we'll just go back to college in a year."

Givens' parents were more receptive, as others in his family had started their own businesses, including Givens' father.

"They had my back 100 percent," Givens said. By his account, his parents said, "You need help staring the business; you need help going to meetings, let us know and we'll help you."

The year was not wasted, as the pair found that they filled a void in Harford County.

"Not really anyone else in Harford County does what we do or can do what we do," Givens said.

Helping hand, teaching

Givens and Williams, who both turn 20 this year, typically help 30 to 50 disabled adults and children in a two-week period, with 80 to 90 percent of their clients coming from Harford County. They or one of their eight part-time employees help get kids off school buses when they arrive home, or provide in-home care to give parents free time, even if parents just want to complete chores around the house.

They even help parents locate private and public funding to help pay for care. If they have a family's contact information, "we've pretty much been calling you and saying 'hey, this is available right now. Let's walk you through the process, let's get you invoiced and let's get you what you need,' " Williams said.

"That way, there's more hours for our employees in the following year and more for us to do," Williams added. "A lot of the parents haven't even heard of the funding sources before."

They also teach children and adults basic life skills, like how to order and behave at restaurants how to purchase food at grocery stores, and will help with homework, with activities tailored to the age of the person, "basically bringing them out in to the community," Williams said.

They will also hold regular outings for children and adults tailored to seasons, including going to amusement parks, going fishing, going swimming and snow tubing.

The pair charges hourly for respite and one-on one-care and by the program for social outings, as well as for their camp, which had its first session earlier this summer.

"We work are hardest to get the families funds from different agencies to cover the cost of whatever it is that they will be participating in," Givens said.

Their employees are all trained to use AEDs and perform CPR, and typically come from backgrounds where they already have experience with developmentally disabled children, such as Best Buddies or having the educational background, and the pair is always looking to hire more.

"We try to focus our employees based on someone who is experienced, [such as someone] who has a brother or sister with disabilities," Williams said. "A lot of times, it's our reputation when we're hiring somebody. You don't want to hire somebody that's going to ruin your reputation and is not going to show up to get a kid off the bus."

Working with church

Givens and Williams also help with programs at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air. The church has programs for special needs people on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and needed help with staffing. After learning about the pair's work at a special needs summit in 2012, the church hired them.