Punzi and her husband, Tony, have turned the Glenvale Road day support center into a haven where adults and kids who suffer from physical or mental disorders can get the assistance they need. They can also shoot pool, swim or go to horse ranches, bowling or skating.
"I wanted to provide a different way to integrate, socialize and educate them," Punzi said.
Year round, the center has about 42 regular adult patients who suffer from a variety of ailments, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, Berger syndrome, Leigh's disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, Prader Willie syndrome and all forms of mental retardation. But during the 11-week summer, mentally or physically challenged kids can't find a normal summer camp experience. Punzi does everything she can to make up for that with the 26 kids she now has registered.
For three years, the center was located on Memorial Drive but on Oct. 26, she purchased the 10,000-square foot center from DeKalb County and relocated to the new facility, which sits on two acres. With the bigger space, they have room for music, dancing, crafts, floral design, computer training, horticulture and classrooms.
Punzi also operates an onsite employment center that provides a work environment for higher functioning individuals.
"The most tedious work that other individuals would not want to do, we do," Punzi said. They recently signed a contract with Stone Mountain-based Publication Marketing and Distribution Inc. to handle labeling and stuffing envelopes. Able clients also volunteer their services to Meals on Wheels.
The center provides the state-mandated Individual Service Plan and has a medical assistant as well as a LPN on staff. They also provide transportation for all of the center's participants within a seven-county area.
On June 4, the Smart Place is expanding some of their services to the general public and will offer classes in a six-week program for individuals who want to become a certified nurse's assistant. Through their New Beginnings at Smart Place program, they will also offer a combination of CPR and first aid classes.
However, Punzi is also concerned about the downside of working with the disabled — the lack of funding. She says there are over 12,000 people in Georgia on the waiting list for Medicaid funding and children are not normally covered for her summer program, which runs $175 to $200 a week. She says that the mentally and physically challenged are not the top priority for government funding.
"We are pursuing funding for a scholarship program for those not able to get traditional funding," she said. "Some of the most severe cases have been waiting for years. If you are not diagnosed by the age of three, you are not in the system."
Punzi encourages those who can to sponsor those who cannot afford the program themselves.
"There is so much need, but the money is just not there," she said.
The Smart Place is at 1916 Glenvale Road. For more information or to help, call 770-469-4418.