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Program helps disabled St. Lawrence County residents transition to independence

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CANTON - Laurie A. Davis isn’t sure where her 29-year-old daughter, Sasha M., would be spending her time if she weren’t enrolled in NYSARC’s Transitions program.

Each weekday, Sasha joins several other young adults and teens with developmental disabilities who participate in the Transitions program.

They gather in the third floor of 101 Main St. for daily activities that range from cooking meals to money management classes.

They practice life skills like how to use a debit card, cook on the stove and stay on a budget while shopping for groceries. They take shopping outings and other field trips.

“It’s been kind of a godsend for Sasha,” Ms. Davis said. “It’s given her a place to go and do things. I don’t know what Sasha would be doing if she didn’t have this.”

Program Director Claire Richardson said many parents are looking for a place where their child can transition from high school to life as an independent adult. The program helps fill that gap.

”We try to spend at least half our day in the community so they can practice the life skills they’ve learned in a real setting,” she said. “Everything we do is goal oriented.”

Next month, participants are taking an overnight trip to Destiny U.S.A. mall in Syracuse. They’ve also attended the state Fair and held a spaghetti dinner.

Launched two years ago, the Transitions program has taken off in leaps and bounds. The number of participants has grown from three people to 30.

“It has just exploded. Every month we’re getting five or six more referrals,” Mrs. Richardson said.

Participants range in age from 15 to 30 and travel from various parts of St. Lawrence County to attend the program, which operates on the third floor of NYSARC’s 101 Main St. building.

The spacious site feature a fully-equipped kitchen, a media room with a computer and television and a large meeting room where group lessons are taught. The program is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Attendance is flexible and some participants only stay part of the day.

The success has prompted NYSARC to make plans for a second location in the village of Potsdam’s Market Street Mall. Other communities may follow depending on demand and available funding.

“In an ideal world there would be a site in every major town,” Mrs. Richardson said.

The program is funded through the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, grants and local fundraising.

At the Canton site, each morning when they arrive, participants sign up for the activities they’d like to attend. Choices include a discussion group that teaches rights, rules and responsibilities and another that focuses on community safety practices such as crossing the street safely. They can also sign up for nutrition, coping and social skills, and money management.

Steven W. Sauter, a 28-year-old participant, said he’s learned coping skills like how to walk away from a situation for a few minutes when he’s feeling angry or frustrated. He particularly enjoys learning about community safety and housekeeping skills.

“I think the staff here is very friendly,” Mr. Sauter said. “I love having my friends here and I like meeting new people. I have a big heart. They call me Romeo.”

Ms. Davis said she likes to learn about hygiene, and she’s looking forward to next month’s trip to Destiny Mall.

Mr. Sauter’s mother, Jacqueline “Jackie” Sauter, Canton, credits the program with helping her son become more confident and independent.

“I think it’s a really needed service,” Mrs. Sauter said. “So many graduate from high school with some learning disability or special need and they need help transitioning to adult life in the community. Like everyone, they want to live as independently as possible. They want to be contributing, good citizens and this really gives them those tools.”

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