by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
Word from ABILITIES FIRST in Poughkeepsie, NY
October 5, 2012, Poughkeepsie, NY—As Dr. Lori Crispi’s term on the board of Abilities First, Inc., a Dutchess County based nonprofit that serves children and adults with disabilities, was coming to an end, she felt that she couldn’t just walk away. “I enjoyed being part of the organization so much, especially the work I did on a committee that allowed me to be around the adults with disabilities that the organization serves. It just didn’t feel right walking away, I wanted to do more.”
One of the areas of the organization in need of support had just the opportunity for Crispi, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Marist College. Abilities First’s Work Training Center (WTC) is a vocational program where adults are able to do paid work for private businesses with the assistance and support of Abilities First staff who are trained in working with adults with disabilities. Until 2009 the WTC was able to offer an adult education program through Dutchess County BOCES, who provided the staffing until funds for the program were no longer available. The participants at the Work Training Center were not happy. “For the past three years not a week goes by that one of our participants doesn’t ask me when the program is coming back,” says Charlie Bender, Director of WTC, “these are adults with disabilities that were school aged at a time when educational opportunities for them were limited or not available at all. Many of them have the capacity to learn but have never been given the opportunity.”
With hardly a break, Dr. Crispi was back at Abilities First, teaching adult education to five participants each Tuesday morning in the newly re-launched “Learning Center”. Along with learning basic reading, writing and math the group covers daily news events, weather, politics, health, nutrition, safety, and more. Dr. Crispi was also able to secure a donation of two computers to the Center from Marist College and has even brought in an artist to work with the participants. Dr. Crispi says that it’s been incredible to see how each of the participants has flourished in the three months since she’s been working with them. Each individual has abilities in different areas that have been ‘unlocked’ through the social and educational opportunities the program has given them access to, including forming new friendships, and helping their ‘classmates’ with physical limitations.
And, the program is expanding! Kevin Burns the program’s former instructor has returned as a volunteer to facilitate a second class for five additional students each week. The Learning Center currently is searching for curriculum for adults learning at an elementary level, as well as assistance and funding so that the program can continue to expand.