For a population that typically struggles with social isolation, what is their “new normal” going to look like as COVID restrictions lift across the state? Strive2Thrive program staff at Incompass Human Services have been working to evolve the program, to better meet the needs of the population of young adults on the autism spectrum without an intellectual disability that we support.
From the beginning, socialization was a core aspect of Strive2Thrive, as well as peer mentorship and self-advocacy. Connecting with peers in their age group while building the skills they need to participate in recreational activities has been an invaluable asset for participants. Such activities acted as a bridge between social isolation and ultimately leading more full, productive, and satisfying lives in the community. Activities that initially drew participants to this program included game show nights, escape rooms, and a zombie scavenger hunt. Even a silent disco that was postponed last year – a sensory-friendly dance where participants listen to music on wireless headphones.
However, access to these types of activities was unfortunately halted by the onset of the pandemic. In response, Alicia Pagan, program manager, and Ben Waithe, ASD Specialist, got creative with a hybrid program model that utilized both in-person and virtual supports.
“Our participants are eagerly anticipating in-person connections, but now that we’ve removed a barrier to virtual sessions, we see a future where S2T participants are more engaged than ever before, and our reach will be only wider.” Pagan notes that participants will get so much more out of the community-based experiences because they are also able to connect with their peer mentors over Zoom. “Now that participants and mentors don’t need to rely on time during our community events to connect, they’re able to further immerse themselves in the social recreation!”
With everything from healthcare to education being transitioned to remote supports, program staff were concerned about “Zoom fatigue”. There was an enhanced focus on creating unique, interactive experiences with the resources available. Virtual concerts, road trips, and Netflix parties were huge hits. As well as themed trivia nights – incorporating fan favorites such as Star Wars and Harry Potter.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly brought challenges, it has also created room for new ways of thinking. Going forward supports to be included in the proposed service model will include life coaching, self-advocacy training, and group recreational activities. And what does Pagan think about these developments? “There is no substitute for being in the community, so we’re going to embrace the hybrid model. And personally, I can’t wait to see the impact.”
Our Annual Holiday Party was another night to remember! On Saturday, December 7, nearly 350 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities from the Greater Lowell area joined us at Lenzi’s. LifeLinks CLASS individuals from day programs and group homes attended, as well as those from the community who look forward to this festive evening every year. The chilly weather didn’t stop partygoers from arriving in their finest holiday attire – everyone was dressed to impress! Once coats were checked and attendees were situated at their tables, the fun began. No time was wasted getting on the dance floor – DJ Ray Tremblay made sure of that. Lenzi’s served a delicious full-course meal, with special thought being given to the dietary restrictions of our guests. A task that is no small feat thanks to the support of our incredible clinical team! The party moved into the lobby area as individuals and volunteers posed for keepsake photos in the accessible photo booth.
It’s important to remember that the LifeLinks CLASS Holiday Party is the highlight of the season for many. It could be they have no living family members to share the holidays with or that their families are not very involved in their lives. For them and for all, our Holiday Party is like being home for the holidays. Thanks to our generous donors who offer their continuous support, we are able to keep this party affordable for the hundreds that attend. With the help of 52 donors, we were able to raise nearly $8,000 to offset the cost of this event. Wow! We couldn’t do what we do without you!
The festivities continued with a Shared Living Meeting hosted at The Establishment in Chelmsford, MA. Our Shared Living providers came together to reminisce, enjoy a delicious meal, swap gifts and face each other in a close game of holiday trivia. What more could you ask for during this special time of year? From everyone at LifeLinks CLASS, we wish you a Happy Holiday!
LifeLinks CLASS ended the month of October on a spooktacular note with costumes, pumpkin contests and loads of candy! On Friday, October 25, our Family Support Center welcomed individuals, family and community members to our Chelmsford location for a Trunk or Treat. Trunk or Treats were created as a safer alternative to trick-or-treating. Rather than walking through neighborhoods, kids and families dress up and collect candy from decorated cars. For many of the children and individuals that we support, a Trunk or Treat is a less stressful and more inviting way to experience the magic of Halloween. While weaving through the crowds, you could run into a variety of characters: Beetlejuice, Thor, Batman and Cinderella! Chelmsford Police joined the festivities, handing out “Police Pal’ stickers to everyone in attendance. After families made their rounds for candy, they moved inside to enjoy pizza generously donated by Suppa’s in Billerica and capture a shot of their costumes with the interactive photo booth. The evening wouldn’t be complete without a memory to take home.
The bone-chilling fun continued this week at our facilities in Chelmsford, Lawrence and Wilmington. Halloween dances have been a longstanding tradition in the LifeLinks CLASS community, and this year they were bigger and better than ever. Individuals gathered in the day programs, some joined by family, to show off their dance moves.
Left: Suzanna is joined by her mother at the Chelmsford Halloween dance. Right: Tina arrives for the Lawrence Halloween dance in her dazzling costume.
It was a wicked sight to see. The Chelmsford Day Habilitation program topped it off with a pumpkin contest. It was a close call but the “Spa Day” pumpkin took home first place! Thank you to the dedicated LifeLinks CLASS team for making these Halloween festivities possible! Most importantly, thank you to the individuals and families who joined us! We can’t wait to do it again next year.
“Spa Day” pumpkin – winner of the pumpkin contest.