Braden Tuffin: What a Bold Life Looks Like

March is National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (NIDDA), which seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of community life. Mosaic will feature one person we serve each week during the month who exemplifies this national campaign by leading a BOLD life.

Braden Tuffin is a typical 19-year-old teenager who loves to skateboard, build and refurbish skateboards, and wear skateboard clothes—you could say he pretty much loves everything and anything involving skateboards. He particularly loves to hang out with friends who are fellow skateboarding aficionados at Des Moines’ brand-new, five-acre skateboard park, Lauridsen, which claims to be the largest skatepark in the country.

Before Braden lived in Des Moines, he lived with his parents. As Braden got older, it became apparent that he needed additional support with his mental and behavioral health, culminating in a 78-day hospitalization on the mental health floor. While there, his mom, Wendy, was his strongest advocate—just as she always had been.

Wendy started looking for a service provider to provide Braden with the skills, training and support he needed to manage his autism, mental and behavioral health. Wendy knew that Braden could be successful, he just needed support.

After interviews with other service providers, Wendy liked what Mosaic had to offer. “I wanted to make sure he was in a stable place,” said Wendy.

In June 2019, Braden moved to a Mosaic group home in Northern Iowa. Braden began to learn important skills such as building healthy relationships and managing behavior, but Braden wanted more. Braden expressed wanting to live closer to his mom and dad, Brian, with whom he is very close. With the support of Mosaic, Braden and his family began to explore Mosaic at Home® options in Des Moines where Braden could live closer to his family. In addition to being closer to each other, Braden and his family saw that Mosaic at Home could provide him with more independence and increased one-on-one attention. 

After many interviews and a lot of due diligence, Sara Hill, a Mosaic host home provider in central Iowa, seemed to be the right fit.

“I knew Sara was the one. She and her husband had two boys about Braden’s age and another bedroom for one more,” Wendy said.

As part of the move in May 2020 to his new home, Wendy told Sara that skateboarding was “Braden’s release, and it always has been.” In fact, she added, Braden had started skateboarding early on at three or four years-old. “He first shared his passion at a family reunion when he was suddenly riding a scooter in front of all of us!”

After spending time with his new family—Braden calls Sara’s two sons “his brothers”—his favorite store became Zumiez, a shop aimed at skateboarders. They not only carry boards, but also board parts, which perfectly fit Braden’s love of refurbishing skateboards. Zumiez also sells multiple brands of sportswear and accessories, from Vans to Broken Promises, appealing to Braden’s interest in skateboarding gear.

Sara fondly laughs, “He loves clothes and to dress up in his different, trendy outfits. He calls it his ‘drip.’ And, he’ll compliment other people by saying ‘I like your drip.’” 

He liked Zumiez so much that Braden and his dad inquired with the store manager, Johnathan, about employing Braden. Braden got the job! Having a family member with autism, Johnathan has been understanding and responsive to the support Braden needs to be successful in the position. It is definitely Braden’s dream job. “I like to use grip tape on different boards to make them cool,” he added. (For the unindoctrinated, grip tape is an important part of the board, because it provides traction to keep the skateboarder’s feet on it, particularly when doing tricks). 

He also has a girlfriend who’s “very sweet,” said Sara. “I hope they stay together. They’re a cute couple. They just had their one-year anniversary when she came over to our house, and they watched a couple of movies together.”

Braden likes Des Moines not only for its nearness to his family—he sees his mom and dad once a month and talks to them on the phone almost every day—but also for his meaningful life that includes more family, a new job, a high school, a girlfriend, and earning a certification in CPR. “Now I can help people,” he proudly beamed.

Sara noted, “Braden is a happy kid. And I love that. He has a good spirit and likes to joke around. He has that artistic fashion side, and I am an artist, too—I have a degree in art. I enjoy that about him; he has a good imagination.”

Rebekkah, a young woman with blonde hair, wears red graduation robes and holds balloons and flowers.

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