Merger Creates Continuum of Support for Those with Developmental Disabilities

“When you sit with a family at end of life, and you know that you’ve helped their loved one – and them – have quality of life, it can be a beautiful, rewarding thing,” says Sara Sucharski, President and CEO of Pony Bird. The nonprofit serves individuals with profound to severe intellectual and physical disabilities, through residential, day and in-home programming. Families also receive support through overnight and day respite services.

In June, Pony Bird will finalize its merger with Next Step for Life, creating a “continuum of support across the lifespan of those with developmental disabilities that currently does not exist,” says Sucharski. “Essentially, we’re bringing together two organizations that have been serving the same population for more than 40 years, each with unique strengths and focus, to provide more resources and a greater scope of service. In today’s reimbursement climate, it also has become essential to achieve greater efficiencies in the way we do our day-to-day business.”

Sucharski says the two organizations began talks of a merger in February 2020 when Next Step CEO made plans for retiring, “and then COVID happened,” which delayed further discussions and due diligence for several months. By early 2021, the two teams were back on track, “developing what the new organizational and financial structures would look like and what programs would entail,” she says. YouthBridge became an essential part of the process, she says, when they awarded Pony Bird a Partnership or Merger Grant.

“Both of us are clients of YouthBridge, and the additional support we’ve received through the grant has been tremendous,” says Sucharski. Funding has helped cover implementation costs, as well as engagement with various consultants to guide them through legal aspects, accounting issues, technology integration and more. Even more meaningful has been the strategic support that YouthBridge has provided, she says.

“We’ve always had mutual respect and been able to learn so much from YouthBridge,” says Sucharski. “Through this process, we were able to have confidential, thoughtful conversations with Barbara and Sissy about how we can effectively partner to improve services. We have a solid foundation going forward.”

After July 1, the combined organization will operate as Pony Bird, with Sucharski at the helm as CEO. The nonprofit will be supporting 1,100 individuals with disabilities across metro St. Louis and Southeast Missouri, providing medical and therapeutic care, as well as community integration, employment, housing and socialization opportunities. An important aspect of the mission – advocacy – “will continue as strong as ever,” says Sucharski.

“We want people to understand the value these individuals have and how much they can bring to the community,” she says. “They’ve heard enough ‘nevers’ and ‘can’ts’ especially from the health system, but we’ve seen them walk when they were told they never would and achieve independence – however they define it – so we know what’s possible.”


If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.