Meaningful Connection Fosters Personal Growth
In the past, we have shared the inspiring story of the opening of the Infinity Day Program at AIM Services. The Infinity Program offered participants a sense of belonging and community, individual choice, and life-enriching experiences for the first time in their lives.
Below, you can read about the journey of one of the people supported in this program, and how saying ‘yes’ to his unique support needs expanded his life into one filled with meaningful opportunity.
A New Beginning
Chad first joined AIM in 2015, along with three other people who were moving out of the state operated O.D. Heck in Albany, NY, an institutional setting for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In response to the unique support needs of the new residents, AIM opened the Infinity Day Program, which Chad would join each weekday. At Infinity, Chad’s staff dedicated themselves to building strong relationships with him. At the forefront of their support was a focus on providing Chad with a sense of safety, consistency, and security. Staff knew that they would need to start slowly and carefully in order to fill his life with opportunities and experiences. Together, they would overcome the challenges that resulted from the restricted life Chad had been living.
When Nicole Carr (formerly Villano) began working with AIM Services as the Program Director of Infinity, just a few years into Chad living at AIM, she and the dedicated staff at the program began to build trust by offering consistent and dependable support. They showed up every day with kindness and compassion and began to build a meaningful relationship with Chad. Familiarizing themselves with Chad’s body language and cues, the bonds they formed allowed them to communicate with him without ever speaking.
Through the individualized support he experiences with his staff, Chad has been thoughtfully immersed in his community. Having limited community integration in his life until being supported by AIM, this was a careful and intentional immersion. First, it started with going for a drive to a convenience store, driving around the parking lot and then returning to Infinity. Staff would eventually help Chad enter the store to get a drink safely and without fear. This thoughtful support is given to Chad every day as he explores new settings and experiences. Always at the forefront is Chad’s comfort and safety. The remarkable and lasting relationships built between he and his staff have provided him with a life full of opportunity, where he achieves his goals in his own unique way, in the timeframe that feels right to him.
Every opportunity presented to Chad is pre-planned, to ensure that he is surrounded by those he trusts, and where he can safely and comfortably exit at a moment’s notice. His strong support system can anticipate his needs, identify what will bring him comfort, and help him build his confidence in order to explore new opportunities.
Relationships Change Lives
At AIM, we are dedicated to helping people build natural supports and friendships, beyond the paid staff with whom they spend a large portion of their lives. In 2018, Chad visited a barbershop for the first time with AIM Staff. There, an important and unexpected friendship with an amazing barber, Brennan, would grow for Chad. From his very first appointment with Brennan, Chad was met with kindness and patience while he worked towards comfort in a new setting. After familiarizing himself with the barbershop, Chad would eventually make it through the entire haircut, remaining seated and enjoying a snack. Brennan took time to learn about Chad and his interests, building a friendship that provided him with a sense of safety and familiarity. Chad became so comfortable with Brennan that he would ultimately walk through the door of the barbershop and run to Brennan’s chair.
As with many of our lives and routines, COVID strained this important relationship. Not using phones or facetime, and unable to go the barbershop during the pandemic, Chad’s relationship with Brennan stopped abruptly. As things began to return to normal, it was discovered that Brennan was no longer working with the barbershop. Chad and his staff attempted to work with another barber, but the attention and interest in building a relationship was not replicated.
We share this story to demonstrate the importance of meaningful connection, knowing that relationships require time and fostering.
Shortly after the discovery of Brennan’s departure from the barbershop, in a chance meeting, Nicole and Brennan ran into each other at a store. Brennan shared that he worked for himself and had been wondering how Chad was doing. After learning that Chad had not been able to form a relationship as authentic and comforting as his with Brennan, he told Nicole he had battery operated clippers and could meet Chad somewhere outside to cut his hair. They settled on Moreau Recreation Park, Chad’s favorite location. Brennan arrived with a snack for Chad, and their friendship picked up where it had left off.
Chad and Brennan’s friendship and reunion highlight the power of kindness to overcome barriers in communication or diverse ways of interacting with one’s environment. They also highlight the potential of people with diverse abilities when working with eager and supportive staff and involved community members. From their first encounter, Brennan greeted Chad with interest and curiosity, asking questions and finding ways to connect. Always at Chad’s side were his staff that constantly discovered ways to support the diverse ways he interacted with the world around him. In doing so, they gave Chad a chance to have the same experiences many of us take for granted, and an opportunity to build his own lasting friendship.
The programs at AIM are successful due to consistent and flexible person-centered support provided by staff. A relationship is built with each unique person served, with staff discovering a person’s interests, abilities, and goals, and building individualized supports and services around them. Staff can then assist people in becoming aware of their communities, identify their valued social roles, and acquire lifelong relationships. Services are organically grown from innovation practice in person-centered planning, in order to enrich the person’s life based on their gifts and talents. This intentional approach to support has given thousands of people, like Chad, the opportunity to reach their greatest potential, achieve their dreams and goals, and build meaningful relationships along the way.