Pony Bird, Inc. and NextStep for Life Merge to Create a Strong Continuum of Support

YouthBridge Community Foundation, through its Merger or Partnership Grant, supported the merger of PonyBird and NextSteps for Life. Both organizations have been partners with YouthBridge through the years. Our goal is to provide grant programs that help sustain and build capacity for organizations. This merger is a testament to our commitment to this goal.

Pony Bird, Inc. and NextStep for Life have announced plans to merge into one organization. This new partnership creates a continuum of support for individuals with intellectual, physical, developmental and other disabilities that does not otherwise exist in the community.

The merger of the two organizations will drive opportunities to improve service delivery, diversify programs, and address needs of growth with the development of more resources for individuals and families in the community. The workforce crisis and potential shifts at the State and Federal levels have also ushered in a need for the organizations’ leadership to proactively ensure ongoing services for individuals with disabilities across their lifespan.

Through this merger, the new organization will be able to provide more resources and a greater scope of services for the community by creating operating efficiencies that allow the staff of the two effectively aid an individual of any age with disabilities across their lifespan and with person-centered services that will meet their needs.

Regarding the merger, Jennifer Wooldridge, CEO of NextStep for Life, shared, “Serving people with disabilities has been my passion for over 40 years. I have been part of this ever-changing landscape of service delivery services will make a meaningful difference for both those served and for the region as a whole. As I move into retirement, I embrace this new entity as a valuable organization for all stakeholders.”

Sara Sucharski, President and CEO of Pony Bird, adds, “We are fully engaged and excited for the opportunity to redefine and strengthen service delivery in our region. We will provide a true continuum of support that is led by a multidisciplinary team with experience, commitment, and passion to ensure individuals in our the benchmark in the industry. The merger allows us to achieve our goals with greater regional impact while creating efficiencies and sustainability as regulations and funding models adapt on the state and federal level.

The newly established organization will continue to exist under the Pony Bird, Inc. name and be led by Sara Sucharski, allowing for the planned retirement of Jennifer Wooldridge. The official closing date for the legal merger is June 30, 2022, and the organizations expect that full integration will take anywhere from 18 – 24 months.

About Pony Bird

Pony Bird was established in 1977 by Dana and Sue Hockensmith for their son, Phillip. They initially served 10 children with significant disabilities. With the encouragement of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Pony Bird went through several expansions to become the organization it is today. Pony Bird now provides 24-hour care for up to 85 individuals with intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities who are non-ambulatory and medically fragile. Support programs include Community Living resources, Community Integration and Education, Day Programs, therapies (including speech, physical, and occupational), 24/7 medical support and respite.

About Next Step for Life

After the Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (JCDDRB) was established in 1978, the first service provider for people with developmental disabilities in Jefferson County was created under the name “Exceptional Ones, Inc.” In August 2010, NextStep for Life became the official name. Today, NextStep for Life provides an array of services to assist more than 1,000 individuals with disabilities to live fulfilled lives with support programs focused on five service areas: community support, employment, family support, leisure and residential.