Community Connections

By Toby Wilson

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

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 she was twenty-one. That's when she said the trouble started:

Nicole Cummings "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 South Yarmouth.

Nicole Cummings "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.

Nicole Cummings "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.

Donna Sabecky "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 community connections."

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, and activities.

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 whole.

Carol Cummings "When Nicole was home and not out in the community as much as 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.