Disability advocacy group is back and looking to expand in Prospect

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

By Andreas Yilma New citizens

OUTLOOK – A local nonprofit that helps people with disabilities is back after a hiatus due to the pandemic and is now looking for help to expand its services.

Abilities without Boundaries is a non-profit organization based in Cheshire that provides group work opportunities and daytime support programs for adults aged 22-80 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The AWB Music Program band held their second gig since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the band to stop going out in public on 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 the daughters of AWB music instructor John Ingrassia, Avery and Reilyn Ingrassia sang. The same AWB members were also at the program’s first concert since the pandemic last month at the restaurant.

AWB executive director Amanda Barnes said AWB attendees get excited when people come together to support them.

“I think it lets them be comfortable, lets them be heard, lets them be seen,” Barnes said.

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

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

Ingrassia said he thought the music program was a huge opportunity for AWB members.

“I’ve seen confidence with kids who are calm,” Ingrassia said.

Barnes said the organization has about 80 members from all walks of life, where the majority of participants are involved in band music. Members come from anywhere in the state; but the organization mainly serves the surrounding areas (which include 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 do our best to acclimate them to the community and have them work competitively within the community,” Barnes said.

The organization is looking to expand its job sites such as janitorial, paper shredding and bottle removal, and lawn care. A few members are employed by 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 find employment, the organization also needs financial assistance to continue its services and grow.

AWB marketing director Chris Loynd said that although the organization is funded in part by the state’s DDS, there’s a big gap between the things the group would like to do and the things it’s committed to. funded that depend on sponsors.

“It’s hard to ask people for money if they don’t know who we are and what we do,” Loynd said. “People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, they are in all communities.”

AWB board chairman Lloyd Saberski echoed Loynd’s thoughts that people may know nothing about the organization to help financially.

“The problem we have in Connecticut — and probably most of the country — is nobody knows there are all these disabled people, people with disabilities,” Saberski said.

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

“We’re as important to the community as the fire department or the police department,” said Saberski, whose disabled son attended the concert. “Every community has people growing up with disabilities and handicaps.”

Saberski said the school system is great until age 21; but after that age there is nothing. More than 30 years ago, some local families founded AWB. Saberski said he was just another family member carrying the torch.

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

About half of AWB’s approximately 80 members have difficulty communicating where they are, either because they are completely non-verbal or simply cannot communicate well. The organization needs to generate funds and interest to fund a speech pathologist or enhanced communication specialist to help the organization communicate with those without a voice, Saberski said.

“We would like to build better programs internally so that we can try to communicate every day,” Saberski said.

Barnes said there are plenty of day programs in the state; however, many of them are closing due to a lack of staff.

“We do our best to get out there, fundraise so we can still be here and serve the people,” Barnes said.

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

“We are mental health advocates, so despite your condition, your situation, your circumstances, you are able and it is our mission to help them feel comfortable, acclimated and accepted in the community,” Barnes said.

The next event AWB will be competing in will be the Hot Cocoa 5K Race on November 12 at Norton School in Cheshire at 8am. AWB will provide food, drinks and shirts.

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