Angelo Blvd. residents celebrate ten years together with family, friends and neighbors
A father feels pride and gratitude
Forthright, with a touch of pride, Jamie asked, “Would you like to see my room?”
“I would love to!” Lynne enthusiastically replied.
That was Jamie Snider, a NHR community home resident, and Lynne Versaci, a representative of NYS Senator Sue Serino, at the big 10th Anniversary Party of the home Jamie and his steadfast housemates – Aaron Abolofia, Jeff Gamble, Andrew Kessler, Luke McElduff, and Kevin Leonard – have shared all that time, on Angelo Blvd. in Lagrange.
Jamie did a terrific job showing off his room, and Lynne was clear in her public remarks about just how delighted she was with all the men at Angelo Blvd., and how much she learned about NHR.
In our time of harsh political manners, Jamie and Lynne’s small interchange represented an incisive example of - and goal for – how the government and its citizens should relate to each other: respectful and responsive.
And the party was wonderful!
The parents of the residents, the easy-going and insightful house manager Paul Thorstenson, and the men themselves, energetically organized it. They all happily cooperated on bringing together the soda, water, ice, green salad, appetizers, hamburgers, sandwiches, and fruit salad, as well as the hot dogs and ice cream donated by Stewart’s.
Most important of all were the 100 high-spirited guests, including friends, relatives and neighbors of the men, the visionary and resolute NHR executive director, Sam Larganaro, the beloved former house manager Monica Robinson, oh-so-many delightful current and former staff members, and NHR residents from other community homes.
Allison Heady, a friend to all the men, who is a NHR board member and also a person receiving services from the agency, marveled that “These guys at Angelo are some kind of men!”
After 10 long years the party gave me exactly what I thought was NOT possible: even more gratitude for what I was already more thankful for than anything else in the world: the reality of a full life for my oldest son, Kevin.
Naturally, I’m grateful to America for its mysterious and true faith that all are created equal, to the enlightened laws that guarantee this belief, and the Medicaid funding that enacts it. I appreciate the vital work of the New York State Office for Person With Developmental Disabilities and our local state Developmental Disabilities Service Office.
I also live with daily gratitude to the NHR administration that addressed neighborhood resistance to open the home, organized the home with care (and flair), and still strives to improve operations. I’m most grateful to every - yes every - current and former administrative staff member and Direct Support Professional that has worked at Angelo Blvd in the past 10 years.
Together this great American coalition delivered the possibility of a good life for an unusual citizen.
Kevin, 36, is now a happy, out-going, and extravagant man with autism and intellectual disabilities. He sings in a community chorus, is very alert to other people’s feelings, and bounds up steps two at a time. Although he stopped believing in Santa Claus at 33 years old, he is still devoted to the Muppets, has a fondness for outrageous costume jewelry, and talks to his hands at unexpected times.
When Kevin went to the group home at Angelo Blvd ten years ago I was confident that he would be well cared for –that he would have a healthy diet, receive medical care and be occupied during the daytime.
But over time some miraculous things happened.
Not only did the men in the house become friends, but because of the unspoken understanding that all the parents shared each other’s deepest concerns they also became friends, developing a genuine fondness for the men that were not their own sons.
Yet most astonishing: with the unheralded, every-single-day supports at NHR, Kevin has achieved something I didn’t even have enough insight to hope for: a place in his community.
At the 10th Anniversary Party Kevin unselfconsciously flaunted the richly human life he lives. Sporting a big, straw hat, endless bracelets and a bright red “Bette Midler Hello Dolly” tee shirt, he greeted every guest with an exuberance akin to the show - his favorite show – that his shirt advertised. Kevin was so busy delighting in each guest’s arrival that he spent very little time with his own family.
This show of independence was particularly thrilling because it highlighted his participation in a community – the very thing a family cannot provide. It was also uplifting to see this connected independence, rather than the dehumanizing isolation that I secretly feared.
In the middle of the party, Kevin’s sister, Bridget, casually pointed to the root of NHR’s life-giving magic, saying, “The best part is how much the staff like all the guys.”
And I promise: because of this, the men have thrived, and their families appreciate it - forever.
Listen to Peter Leonard and Julia Kessler speak about what Angelo Blvd. has meant to their sons and to them. They speak about the vital role of DSPs, NHR's long-standing commitment to quality supports and the role of Medicaid in ensuring basic human rights. This conversation is part of the radio show Finding Out and was originally broadcast on 8/13/17. Click the link below to listen.