Disabled advocacy group back, looking to expand in Prospect

Abilities without Boundaries Music instructor John Ingrassia’s daughters (from left) Reilyn and Avery sing along while AWB members (from left) Nate C., Angel B., and Danny L play the tambourines at a free concert at Senor Pancho’s restaurant on Sunday, August 21. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

PROSPECT — A local nonprofit that helps disabled people is back after a hiatus due to the pandemic and is now looking for help to expand services.

Abilities without Boundaries is a Cheshire-based nonprofit that provides group work opportunities and day support programs for adults ages 22 to 80 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The AWB Music Program Band held its second concert since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the band to stop going out in public at the back lawn of Senor Pancho’s restaurant on a recent Sunday afternoon at 280 Cheshire Road. AWB members Danny L., Nate C. and Angel B. performed with tambourines while AWB music instructor John Ingrassia’s daughters Avery and Reilyn Ingrassia sang. The same AWB members were in the program’s first concert since the pandemic last month at the restaurant as well.

AWB Executive Director Amanda Barnes said the AWB participants get excited when people come together to support them.

“I think that it allows them to be comfortable, allows them to be heard, allows to them to be seen,” Barnes said.

Ingrassia, who teaches music outside of the organization at his studio John Ingrassia Music in Cheshire, said he has been teaching music at AWB for the last four years.

“It affected me a ton. It changed my life,” Ingrassia said. “It’s one of the greatest things I ever did.”

Ingrassia said he thinks the music program is a huge opportunity for AWB members.

“I’ve seen confidence with kids that are quiet,” Ingrassia said.

Barnes said the organization has about 80 members from all different backgrounds where a majority of participants are involved with the music group. Members come from anywhere in the state; but the organization mainly serves the surrounding areas (which includes Cheshire, Prospect and Waterbury, Wolcott and Meriden). The group is funded in part by the state Department of Developmental Services.

The organization focuses on day and job support for its members, Barnes said.

“We try our best to acclimate them into the community and get them competitively employed within the community,” Barnes said.

The organization is looking to expand its job sites such as janitorial, paper shredding and bottle and can pick up, and lawn care. A couple of members are employed with Nardelli’s and the nonprofit is looking to place them in jobs such as Stop & Shop and ShopRite, Barnes said.

As AWB helps its members with employment, the organization is in need of financial aid as well to continue its services and expand.

AWB marketing director Chris Loynd said although the organization is funded in part by the state DDS, there’s a big gap between things the group would like to and things they’re funded for which depends on sponsors.

“It’s hard to ask people for money if they don’t know who we are and what we do,” Loynd said. “The folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, they’re in every community.”

AWB board of directors president Lloyd Saberski echoed Loynd’s thoughts on how people may not know anything about the organization to financially help.

“The problem we have in Connecticut — and probably most of the country — is nobody knows there’s all these handicap individuals, persons with disabilities,” Saberski said.

Saberski said he started the marketing aspects for AWB about 12 years with a Hot Cocoa 5K race to let the community know who they are.

“We’re as important to the community as the fire department or the police department,” Saberski said whose son with disabilities was in attendance at the concert. “Every community has those people that grow up and have disabilities and handicaps.”

Saberski said the school system is great up to the age of 21; but after that age there’s nothing. Over 30 years ago, some local families founded AWB. Saberski said he’s just another family person carrying the torch.

“The problem is we’re super underfunded and it’s one of those programs that nobody wants to put money in,” Saberski said.

About half of the roughly 80 members of AWB have difficulty communicating where they are — either because they completely nonverbal or just can’t communicate well. The organization needs to generate funding and interest for funding a speech therapist or an augmentative communication specialist to help the organization communicate with those who have no voice, Saberski said.

“We would like to build better programs in-house so that we can try everyday to communicate,” Saberski said.

Barnes said there’s a lot of day programs in the state; however many of them are closing due to staff shortages.

“We’re trying our best to get out there, fund raise so that we can still be here and serve the population,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the organization’s mission is to ensure possibilities are endless.

“We’re advocates for mental health, so despite your condition, situation, circumstance, you are capable and that’s our mission, to help them feel comfortable, acclimated and accepted into the community,” Barnes said.

The next event for AWB to attend will be the Hot Cocoa 5K race on Nov. 12 at Norton School in Cheshire at 8 a.m. AWB will provide food, drinks and shirts.