Assisted living center educates cognitively disabled

In the fall of 1998, Doug Dillman's future was bright. He graduated high school with top honors and earned an academic scholarship to Harding University.

Early in the semester, he got into a car accident that left him comatose with serious brain injury.

Time and therapy helped him regain his speech, but his short-term memory is compromised.

Today, Dillman lives at Marbridge, an assisted living facility for people with cognitive disabilities and autism.

Ed and Marge Bridges founded Marbridge in 1953 after they could not find a suitable program for their son Jim.

"[The Bridges'] vision was that folks with cognitive challenges could be productive, gainful citizens in the community. They needed a little bit more assistance, a little more help, a little more support than folks of normal intelligence," said Scott McAvoy, Marbridge's vice president of operations.

Marbridge has grown from a farming ranch for five adults to house 270 people and employ 210 across three campuses.

"[Residents] either come to us for a college-like experience or [they] will be with us for the rest of their lives," he said.

When a resident arrives at Marbridge, he or she meets with staff and completes a skills assessment and gets a unique schedule of classes. Marbridge offers roughly 150 classes from nutrition to interviewing.

"The idea is to teach how to take care of yourself and your surroundings, interact with others, and take all of those soft skills and get a job," McAvoy said.

Marbridge residents hold jobs at places such as Hilton hotels and Seton Family of Hospitals.

McAvoy said stories of seemingly miraculous progress are common at Marbridge.

"We had a resident who was nonverbal but loved horses," he said. "He took care of the horses and started talking to the horses. Eventually, he started talking to the horse trainers. Then he started talking to everyone. It's amazing."

Marbridge is raising money for a new athletic center. It has raised $580,000 toward its $2.8 million goal.

Dillman holds two volunteering positions. His goal is to get a job and live independently.

"If I could make any progress any other way than slowly and cautiously, I would," he joked.

He records everything in "his spiral brain," a notebook that never leaves his side. He also uses a voice recorder and iPhone.

He said he likes to inspire other residents.

"I have gained a lot from the assistance they have here at Marbridge," he said. "I am one of the fortunate ones."

Residential options

  • The Village at Marbridge: Six-person cottages with some supervision for higher-functioning residents
  • The Ranch at Marbridge: Assisted living housing for lower-functioning residents
  • The Villa at Marbridge: A facility that provides professional nursing, medical care and rehabilitation

Marbridge, 2310 Bliss Spillar Road, 282-1144,

By Joe Olivieri
Joe covered Southwest Austin news for Community Impact Newspaper from January 2011 to April 2015. His reporting focused on new businesses, development, transportation, industry and Travis County issues. He was named the paper's managing editor in April 2015. Joe hails from New Jersey.


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