By Toby Wilson
to an audio version of this
Cape Cod residents with disabilities and their families face special challenges. Giving
them a safe, healthy environment in which they are cared for, supporting
meaningful life goals, and preparing them to become an active and
welcome member of the community. These are some of the many services
provided by Community Connections, a non profit organization dedicated to
helping people with disabilities lead active lives.
Twenty-seven year old Nicole Cummings has cerebral palsy, a congenital
condition affecting body movements and muscle coordination. She is able to
get around only with the assistance of a wheelchair. Despite this condition,
she had an active and fulfilling childhood. She served as a poster
child for the Massachusetts Cerebral Palsy Foundation
when she was five years old and graduated from Dennis/Yarmouth High School when
twenty-one. That's when she said the trouble started:
"I graduated high school in '99. I was home for a year, where
I was bored out of my mind."
For adults with disabilities, the transition from school to adult life
can be difficult. Nicole was used to the socially stimulating life she
had at school, where she had friends, activities, and goals. But she
was almost entirely dependent on others to care for her most basic needs
and sitting at home at twenty-one made her miserable. Her mother was aware of Nicole's
unhappiness, and arranged for her to
begin attending the Community Connections Day Center on Whites Path in
"At first, when I first came to this program, I was only
scheduled to come Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I went home and said
'Mom! I'm going five days a week!' and that's what happened."
Nicole is picked up from her home every weekday and is brought to the
day center in one of the organization's wheelchair accessible vans.
Each client is evaluated according to their needs and given goals to
achieve. Nicole was inspired when she saw other clients at the center
working to achieve greater independence in their lives, so she began working
on increasing her self-sufficiency.
"They're trying to teach me to be more independent, with
feeding myself, with doing things on my own. I do my own laundry, I
cleanup my own room."
Community Connections serves over 550 to 600 people with physical,
developmental or learning disabilities per day. They have service sites
in Yarmouth, Mashpee, Orleans, Plymouth and the Greater New Bedford and
Fall River areas. Current President Donna Sabecky founded the
organization in 1985 after she was disabled in a horseback riding accident.
"Well, it's important for every person, whether they
have a disability or not, to be a part of our community. We all need to
be able to have a happy and a full life. And a life that allows us to be
as active as possible in our own community, have our friends, have a
social life, not be so cloistered in the community. We believe that
everyone should be afforded equal access to the community, thus the name
Each client is given personalized case management. The agency then
designs individual programs that build on the strengths of the whole
person. One skill needed to live independently is learning to eat healthy
foods and to exercise. To teach these skills, the day center has a class
called "TOPS," or Taking Off Pounds Sensibly.
Agency services also include employment training, transition from
school to adult life, independent living support, and providing
transportation to create access to work, community services, medical appointments,
Nicole's mother, Carol, wanted to support her daughter's desire to
live independently and so she rented out the family's house in Dennis to
allow Nicole and four others to live in a group home setting. Carol sees
how Nicole's becoming more independent benefits the family as a
"When Nicole was home and not out in the community as much
she is now, she would try to live with what we were doing outside of the
home and wanted to get involved in things. So I think it made her.. be
able to share different things that she would do outside of the home
with the family, to say, 'Oh, I went here and did that' and, you know,
makes her feel a little more part of the world, the outside, the
community and, and, her family and not living through all of us."
For Nicole, Community Connections is a place where she can learn to be
her own person -- where she's not simply looked after and cared for,
but challenged to become an active and independent member of society.
It's a formula that benefits the individual, the family, and the
community as a whole.
Broadcast April 6, 2006
Re-broadcast April 4, 2007
Toby Wilson reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.