How This Disability Nonprofit Has Changed the Lives of Those in the Disability Community in 2022

Josh Fields was 16 when he realized that teens with disabilities had few opportunities after high school. His best friend had Down syndrome, and the difference between their future options frustrated him more and more as graduation loomed closer. 

“I was furious,” remembers Fields. “I kept asking, what can we do?” 

Fields turned his frustration into action and created The Next Steps Programs (TNS) to initiate change. Seven years later, that nonprofit is still disrupting the system and exhibiting phenomenal growth. 

Can a high school student make a difference for the disabled community?

Fields and his friend, Richard Price, co-founded TNS in 2015. Their nonprofit has a two-pronged approach. For young people with disabilities, TNS provides programs covering social skills, money management, independent living, career exploration, entrepreneurism, cooking, fitness, and healthy living. TNS also works with employers one-on-one, demonstrating how people with intellectual and developmental differences, such as autism, Down Syndrome, and cerebral palsy, make excellent employees. 

“Employers benefit when they hire individuals with disabilities,” Fields explains. “National employment studies clearly prove that people with disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates, and less absenteeism than workers without disabilities. We use the facts to show employers that hiring people with disabilities is both the human thing to do and a sound business practice.” 

TNS provides its services for a minimal fee, but never turns away clients for lack of payment. By 2018, the nonprofit was serving 11 young people with disabilities. Today, they reach 75 people throughout greater Philadelphia.

2022 marks a year of unprecedented growth for the Next Steps Programs

2022 has been a year of constant and steady growth for The Next Step Programs. At the conclusion of 2021, Josh Fields came on board full-time as Chief Executive Officer. In February 2022, he expanded the TNS year-round team to include a Program Manager, Marketing Coordinator, and Community & Family Manager . This new staff was exactly what TNS needed to support its expanding programs and operations. 

In May, TNS opened its first office space. “We’re excited to move from a rented space at St. Cyril’s social  hall in Jamison, PA  to a more permanent home at 204 N. West St. in Doylestown Borough,” announces Fields. “This larger space enables us to launch a new Community and Career Center offering programs to families and young adults multiple times a week. The programs will continue to focus on supporting young adults with disabilities as they transition from high school into employment and independent living.” 

In May 2022, TNS demonstrated further growth by providing the first program outside of the Greater Philadelphia area. Program Manager Lisa Butler spearheads the new program location. “We launched TNS Cumberland County to serve young adults with disabilities in the Greater Harrisburg area,” says Fields. “This expansion proves that our TNS model is needed and can be effective in all communities.”

Forging community connections to bring lasting change

During the summer of 2022, TNS piloted a new initiative entitled Explore Bucks County. The new opportunity included five weeklong day programs for young adults and adults with disabilities to explore community offerings in the way of worksites, philanthropy, and recreational opportunities. “This new offering is a huge success,” Fields reports. “It’s paving the way for new business partnerships  and new opportunities for young adults in our community! 

As summer drew to a close in August, TNS hosted its Annual Today is the Future Gala. This year’s fundraiser brought in over $75,000 to support the nonprofit’s growing financial aid fund and program expansion opportunities. 

“During a year when many organizations struggle to recruit volunteers and pull in funding, The Next Step Programs continues to innovate and grow,” remarks Fields. “We are constantly building new relationships and lasting partnerships to create more and more opportunities for the disability community.”

As TNS moves forward in September, the staff is enthusiastic about its upcoming fall programs in Bucks County as well as Cumberland, Pennsylvania. The nonprofit is entering its largest season to date, serving more than 70 individuals with disabilities from across the commonwealth. “Our expanding programs this season feature opportunities and experiences for young adults to gain skills in communication, employability, independent living, critical thinking, and so much more,” says Fields. “The world is changing. It’s becoming more accepting of those with disabilities, and we’re proud to be a part of that change.”


Opinions expressed by San Francisco Post contributors are their own.

Jennifer Smith

A social-media savvy and works as an IT consultant on a communication firm in Los Angeles. She manages her blog site and a part-time writer.

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