Personal Stories Archive
Tyler Forgeron, a Walpole resident served by The Family Autism Center was recently awarded the 2020 Jane Forsberg Advocacy Award for his efforts through Tyler Can!, a recycling initiative he launched through social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, collecting bottles and cans. He has raised thousands of dollars for local charities. Brian Clark, Director of The Family Autism Center and Christine Baker, Adult Support Coordinator, presented the award thanking him for his leadership, advocacy and dedication to his community. The Family Autism Center is a grateful recipient of his efforts by receiving over $1,300 slated for its programs. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Tyler has been an active participant in the community as well as volunteering at our programs.
Dexter Young has been a part of the Lifeworks community since 1998. After living in a group home in Foxborough for over 11 years, Dexter made his dream of living in his own apartment come true. Dexter is very independent and is quite the entertainer and athlete. He takes pride in his home and all of his electronics that he has purchased for his apartment with his paycheck from working at Old Navy. Dexter is a champion bowler, and participates in our floor hockey program and many of Lifeworks’ social events.
Grandparents Support Group at The Arc of South Norfolk
When the Family Autism Center officially opened in January of 1997, a Grandparents Support Group was created shortly thereafter and facilitated by its founder Dick McKeen of the Massachusetts Chapter of Autism Society of America.
The group met at The Arc of South Norfolk’s campus at 789 Clapboard-tree Street in Westwood.
Lucy Erhard, a parent of an adult child with autism, joined The Arc in 2001 as a Family Support Coordinator. Three years later, Lucy asked her supervisor if she could make the Grandparents Group part of her job responsibilities. Dick McKeen welcomed the idea and Lucy soon became co-facilitator with Dick. When Dick became ill, Lucy took over as lead facilitator.
Two years after retiring from The Arc of South Norfolk in 2012, Lucy received a call asking if she was able to rejoin the group and take over as the group’s facilitator. Without hesitation Lucy agreed to take on the task. Lucy has always envisioned the Grandparent Support group as a supportive learning experience. The Grandparent Support Group meetings cover a wide array of topics and often have guest speakers. Speakers include parents of children with ASD; Behavioral Consultants; lawyers specializing in families dealing with loved ones with special needs; Department of Developmental Services, Easter Seals, AFAM as well as speech and language therapists. Topics have included medications; obtaining custody of grandchildren; health concerns; estate planning; The Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition Program or anything that grandparents bring to the table. There have been a grandmother and a grandfather who have relocated to help raise their grandchild. “It’s a wonderful way to support their children who are themselves struggling to deal with a child diagnosed with ASD 24/7”, says Lucy Erhard. When Lucy started with the support group there were 22 grandparents. Presently, there are 10 sets of grandparents participating in the group as some have sadly passed away.
Lucy says grandparents who attend the support group often grieve the loss of typical grandchild. They grieve
twice, once for their grandchild and a second time for their own child. They appreciate the comfort and support they receive from each other. “They come to the meetings eager to learn everything they can”, said Lucy.
Two Grandparent Support Group members share the same 10- year-old grandson who has autism. Elena, the paternal Grandmother loves the support the group gives to one another. “I have a deeper appreciation of what others are going through,” says Elena.
Elena also appreciates the efforts Lucy has made bringing in the variety of speakers. Prior to joining the group, she felt a bit uneducated and not equipped to help her grandson or his parents. “Lucy has been a terrific facilitator bringing in various speakers including Representative Paul McMurtry” said Elena.
Representative McMurtry is a strong advocate of the special needs community and has met with the group for feedback on their concerns. “The participants in our Grandparents Support Group bring a tremendous amount of energy through their advocacy to the steps of the State House each April on Autism Awareness Day”, says Dan Burke, President and Chief Executive Officer. Brian Clark, Director of the Family Autism Center, adds that “The goals are not only to educate and inform people, but also to help our grandparents form important personal connections, share life experiences with one another, and become empowered to help their loved ones. We feel the Grandparents Group has been instrumental in helping people achieve these.” The Grandparents Group is open to grandparents of family members of any age with developmental disabilities.
Rosemary, the maternal grandmother says, “The people I’ve met through the Grandparents Support Group are a very special supportive group. We share lots of laughter, sometimes tears, and a wealth of knowledge with each other.
As the group met for the last time before its summer hiatus, grandparents bid farewell to each other and celebrated Lucy Erhard as she officially retired as the group’s facilitator. Lucy, Rosemary and Elena are looking forward to the next time they get together.
The Grandparents Support Group meets September through June, 9:30am – 11:30am, the third Thursday of the month, with the exception of April when they visit the Statehouse for Autism Awareness Day. New members are welcome and encouraged to join. For more information, please contact Brian Clark, Director of the Family Autism Center, (781) 762-4001, ext. 310 or email@example.com.
29th Legislative Event
29th Legislative Event Central Mass Gathering with the Governor
The Arc-Center of Hope Foundation, Inc., led the 29th Annual Legislative Event called “Gathering with the Governor” on Thursday, May 30th at the AC Hotel by Marriott. Local area service providers came together to bring awareness of the needs of the I/DD community. Co-sponsors included The Arc of Opportunity,
HMEA, Life-Skills, Open Sky Community Services, Venture Community Services, Seven Hills Foundation, Riverside Community Care, South Central Citizens Advisory Board, The Arc of Massachusetts, and ADDP. The Chamber of Central Mass South and the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce were also sponsors of the event.
Governor Charlie Baker was the featured speaker and was presented an award in gratitude for his commitment to advocating for disabled individuals. In his remarks, he said he was glad to “get a front-row seat to all the great work that people do.”
Legislators from Central Massachusetts and local provider agencies presented awards to those who have shown remarkable dedication and support to those we serve. The following awards were given: Rosemarie Derry, Family Support Professional; Eileen Harris, Making a Difference Award; Michael Seibold, Leadership; Peter Geoffroy, Hero; Jessica Santiago, Linda Cournoyer Award for Excellence in Advocacy; Peggy Akinlosotu, Direct Support Professional; Dan Stewart, Shining Star and Lynda Moore, Legacy of Leadership.
Several local businesses also received awards for their inclusion in the workforce: Chartwells, Community Inclusion Champion; Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center, Ripple Effect Award; Harrington Healthcare, Civic Engagement Award; and Dell Technologies, Corporate Community Partnership. These businesses have offered employment opportunities to folks with disabilities. Their realization that they receive valuable and dedicated employees has led to numerous paid and meaningful opportunities for our folks.
Cody Decarteret, a Webster resident, was awarded the Courage and Bravery Award for his help during a fire that broke out in his house. He was able to stay calm, alert his mother, and help firefighters navigate when they arrived at the scene.
The Center of Hope Foundation and the other local service providers continue to advocate for these individuals and will continue to fight for additional funding, not only for supporting these individuals but also to open up new opportunities within the community.
There’s a new neighbor just off the VFW Parkway in West Roxbury, bustling with activity and its occupants won’t hesitate to tell you how much fun they have on a daily basis. Arc Connections is a day program offered through The Arc of South Norfolk, headquartered in Westwood, Massachusetts. Formerly known as Senior Connections, a day program for older adults with disabilities first opened its doors in 1993 in a 1,200 square foot building in downtown West Roxbury. The Arc of South Norfolk recognized a growing need for an aging population with increasing medical needs in the Boston area, so a larger space was sought. The Arc’s new program, Connections, has recently located at 1580 VFW Parkway. This beautiful 16,550 square foot facility is shared with The Arc of South Norfolk’s affiliate, Lifeworks, which offers residential, skill building, and employment support.
Connections has a large common area for socializing and activities, as well as classrooms equipped with ceiling-mounted lifts for those needing assistance. There is also a large, accessible kitchen space for the groups to make their favorite dishes. Access to occupational, speech, behavioral, and physical therapy consultations are available as well. The Connections program focuses on community involvement and engagement by its participants. The program also encourages a rapport among participants; enhancing self-esteem, independence, life and motor skills.
The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Connections participants must have approval from the Department of Developmental Services, as Mass Health funds the program. Individuals who attend the day program have varied schedules that include anything from 1-5 days a week, half-days or what best supports their needs. Connections welcomes individuals age 22 and over, residing within a 20-mile radius of the West Roxbury address. The current, but expanding, staff consists of an Associate Director, Healthcare Supervisor and two Case Managers. Now in a position to welcome more individuals, Connections is looking
to fill more spots in the upcoming months.
Connections offers health and wellness programs, formal exercise classes, walking groups, and a cardiovascular “Wii Fitness” program. In addition, Connections offers educational and artistic instruction including skill development to stimulate and encourage the growth of each individual, painting canvas, a gardening program, nutrition education, a music group, and cooking classes. “Engagement is our biggest priority,” says Andy Smith, Associate Director of Connections. “Encouraging developing rapports between the participants we serve is something we put a lot of
A typical day at Connections begins with “morning circle,” where each individual takes a turn facilitating the group discussion. The group then transitions to conversations about current events. “It is a wonderful vehicle for social interaction”, says Andy. Andy also noted he has to be very cognizant of the energy level of the group on a daily basis when planning activities. “The key is finding the right balance.” The group participates in community exploration, recreational outings, inclusive community programs, grocery shopping, and bowling. Ann, a long-term participant with a bright smile and a sparkle in her eye, told me during my visit, “I absolutely love the activities here and all the friendships I’ve made over the years.” Gene, who’s been attending the program for nine years, shared, “I love to exercise a lot.” There is always an option to opt out of a structured activity should the individual not wish to participate. A less intensive choice is offered such as a card game, tabletop activity or going for a walk. When asked about what he enjoys most about his job as Assistant Director of Connections, Andy responded, “I am surrounded by so many unique personalities. I can be myself and have an authentic rapport with everyone.”
For more information about Connection’s programs, contact Andy Smith, Associate Director at (617) 469-1986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.