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By Jordan Vallone
Community Mainstreaming Associates, a Long Island-based organization that provides innovative services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and promotes their inclusivity within communities, recently opened a new group home in North Merrick. The house, which is home to six women, is fully renovated with all the necessary amenities and appliances.
The girls, who have Down Syndrome, Autism or other developmental disabilities, officially moved into the house during the first week of March.
Egan explained that since the group moved in and settled into the community, they are enjoying becoming acquainted with the Bellmore-Merrick area and participating in the various programs found within. The girls each came from different areas on Long Island, and for a few of them, this is their first time living in a group home.
Egan explained that it was a great option for them, as it’s a female-only household, and they’re all around the same age, in their early to mid 30s. Each girl has their own room, and there is a communal space, including a few living areas, a dining room, a basement with a television and board games and a large backyard and patio with a table, umbrellas and grill.
At the home, the girls were excited to talk about their lives and their new abode. The home provides them with independence and the ability to live mostly on their own — a first time experience for most of them.
A handful of the girls attend a Day Habilitation, or Day Hab, program, run by the Association for Children with Down Syndrome at the Sacred Heart Church on Merrick Avenue for children and adults with Down Syndrome, autism and other intellectual disabilities. Through that program, they can be active members of the community through volunteer work and community outings, during which they can gain social and work skills.
One of the girls goes to a Day Hab in Bethpage for a theater program. She excitedly shared that she was part of an award-winning Drum Core prior to the pandemic.
She also explained how her day goes when she returns from the Day Hab — she enjoys making her own lunch and hanging out with her housemates. The girls complete household chores, including cooking, cleaning and laundry.
Their days are coordinated by the manager of the house, Tiffany, who has been working with CMA for fifteen years.
Even though the girls are all very independent and even manage some of their own schedules — such as when they have Zoom calls with their friends and family — the staff is there to support them with cooking, medical appointments, banking and budgeting and transportation and travel.
The house’s location allows one of the girls to participate in a program alongside the Prep Academy at Brookside School, which is part of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District. The program is run by CMA, but the participants join some of the district’s students in schooling and other community outings.
Egan shared that CMA also has a business academy where participants can learn e-commerce by selling donated goods and products on E-bay.
“They learn how to list things on E-bay, and pack and ship orders,” she explained.
Outside of their busy day-to-day schedules, the girls will go out on additional outings with their house staff. Tiffany and two of the other staff members, Akeishe and Brianna, shared that they take the girls on walks, visit nearby parks and sometimes get manicures. There are plans for the summertime to visit amusement parks, including a potential trip to Disney World, and go to the beach and pools.
The home’s neighbors have also been welcoming, Egan said, adding that one of them has been particularly helpful in assisting the staff and girls assimilate into the area.
“He always texts me when it’s garbage night or recycling night,” Egan explained.
The staff and the girls displayed a close chemistry — it was apparent that Tiffany, Akeishe and Brianna are considered their friends who help keep the home’s environment safe, comforting and lively.
“The girls are fun,” Tiffany said. “They love going out and they love dancing. Their energy is high and they’re really having a great time.”
CMA believes that people should be defined by what they can do, not by what they can’t do, according to the group’s motto. The message was apparent inside their North Merrick location — every activity is another lesson of independence, and the girls are busily melding into their new community.