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At Light House, it takes a village — one with a lot of laughter

New London — Jevon Clarke sat on the couch next to the miniature Christmas tree in the community room, scanning an iPad to pick a holiday-themed trivia question.

"What animated 2004 film is about a train that carries kids to the North Pole on Christmas Eve?" asked Clarke, a life skills coach, addressing a room with a few adults who vary in their mobility and verbal skills. He paused before nudging, "The Polar..."

"Express," John replied from his wheelchair in front of Clarke. He wore a smile and headphones — he likes listening to the police scanner.

Staff members floated in and out of the room, laughing and teasingly scolding one another when one excitedly blurted out an answer before waiting for a participant.

Some of those in the room for trivia at The Light House, a nonprofit serving children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, previously had been working on a craft down the hall, painting cardboard wreaths green. Next door, life skills coach Kysha Drummond helped participants stir Betty Crocker cupcake mix batter.

They were gathered for the Day Support Option program, which includes 21 participants — The Light House serves 100 clients each year — and eight staff members. It runs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It takes place at the Community Campus, which relocated from its former spot in Groton to 125 Shaw St., which previously was doctors' offices, this past summer.

The space for DSO has gone from one big, open space to a hallway with several rooms, which has its ups and downs. Staff no longer can observe everything that's going on at once, but the new layout benefits those with sensory issues who may need a quiet, dark space.

A morning in the day program

The day for most of the life skills coaches starts at 6:45 a.m., when they pick up participants from as far as 40 minutes away. From about 8 to 9 a.m., there is a flurry of activity, as clients enter the building and set their items down and go to the bathroom.

Program coordinator Will Robinson prepared to take some individuals to Apple Rehab, where they would facilitate a bowling activity with residents by handing the balls to residents and keeping score. Robinson proudly said the program has grown from four to 12 residents in the past year.

Other outings involve volunteering, such as stocking shelves at Fiddleheads, cleaning up after shows at the Garde Arts Center and working in the donation room at Homeward Bound Treasures.

"It's authentic, and we're well-liked at all of our places," Robinson says, "and we're doing real jobs, real volunteer work that people need."

Those who aren't going on the day's outing head into the kitchen to wait for everyone to settle in. One of the life skills coaches pulls up Chris Brown's rendition of "This Christmas" on an iPad, and people start singing along.

The day proceeds with a wreath craft, trivia, cupcakes and nail-painting. Participants flip through circulars to get gift ideas for their upcoming shopping trip. They sit in the community room to watch holiday music videos from Pentatonix.

Arts and crafts are always popular and, during warmer weather, activities might include riding on adapted bikes or going on community walks or blowing bubbles.

The afternoon is less structured.

'We're like a little happy family'

While the cupcakes were being made, program coordinator Kelsey Brown ran into the room to announce, "Guys, sorry to interrupt, but I have a nephew!" She passed her phone around the room so people could see pictures of the newborn baby.

Brown later explained that staff like to involve their clients in their conversations.

Now 30, she first began working at The Light House at 16, though the years in between involved some time away. Her whole family has volunteered there, and her brother, Kassidy Brown, is executive director.

She's grown attached to those who have been coming to the Day Support Option program for years, and like other staff members, she has gotten to know their individual habits.

Amelia likes to ask anyone and everyone to her house for dinner, and if the response is a rebuff, she replies, "Aww, beans, hon!" (but with a smile). Jacob always wants grilled cheese for lunch. Emmett is affectionate.

The staff also is affectionate with participants but try to enforce the principle of personal space when necessary. Some staff-to-participant ratios are 1:1 while others are 1:3, and staff members float around based on where they're needed at any given moment.

"We adapt and we're really ready for any situation that gets thrown at us," Clarke said. "It's great that you've got peers like that."

Brown commented, "We're like a little happy family here. You gotta be. It takes a village. Even just for one, it takes a village."


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