Lombardis inspire new program for area agency

Gianni Lombardi is living in a home in Georgetown with two other young men on the autism spectrum. His parents bought the home so he could be closer to them. Ability Beyond Disability is providing 24/7 staffing. —Drew B. Photography

Honeyvale Cottage in Georgetown is the home of Ability Beyond Disability’s newest program thanks to Frank and Maryann Lombardi.

The Lombardis purchased the home and renovated it for their son Gianni, who is in the program, so he could live closer to them. He is living in the house with two other young men on the autism spectrum.

Ms. Lombardi said Gianni had been living at specialized residential school, Benhaven in New Haven, the only one in the state that teaches children with autism.

Since Gianni was at that time nearing the age of 21 and would be moved to a group home probably farther away from home, the Lombardis bought Honeyvale Cottage so he could be closer to them.

“We had not worked with Ability Beyond Disability before,” said Ms. Lombardi, because Gianni had been with Benhaven since the age of 11. As he reached the time when he would transition from Benhaven, a Wilton transition coordinator advised getting in touch with Ability Beyond Disability, she said.

At that time, the Lombardis had been remodeling the house, which needed a lot work, and they were nearing the end of the remodeling phase Ms. Lombardi said.

That’s when Ability Beyond Disability came in with its safety team to see if anything further needed to be done to make the house safe for Gianni and his roommates.

Ability Beyond Disability, headquartered in Bethel, is providing residential support services 24/7 for the residents of the three-bedroom home.

Gianni, now 21, is living in the home with roommates ages 24 and 30. “They’re having a great time. They have an active lifestyle and go for walks,” said Ms. Lombardi.

Her son has a job collecting donated food from supermarket sites that he takes to Community Plates in Norwalk, a nonprofit that helps feed the poor.

The three young men hosted a Christmas Party on Dec. 17 and have plans to start a vegetable garden this summer, said Ms. Lombardi.

“The whole ideas was to bring Gianni home to his own community,” she said, adding he came home from Benhaven every weekend and holiday but was not connected to the community.

Now he goes to the YMCA and plays basketball and he and his housemates come to the Lombardis’ restaurants to take bottles and cans for recycling. The Lombardis own Lombardi’s Pizza in West Redding and are part-owners of Fresca Trattoria in Georgetown.

“We hope we have inspired more people to do this,” said Ms. Lombardi. “It’s a great model. Our staff is exceptional, and are doing an amazing job. Each brings something unique to the house.”

“The Lombardi family took the lead in making the home suitable for individuals with autism and chose Ability Beyond Disability to provide support in the home and will continue to serve as landlords for the property,” Ability Beyond Disability said in its release. Their son and the other young men are renters.

Tanya Medve, the assistant director of programs & services for the organization, oversees the new home in Georgetown.

“We are so grateful to the Lombardi family for all their hard work, and for choosing Ability Beyond Disability to provide these critical supports,” said Ms. Medve. “We intend to utilize this opportunity to develop a model that can be replicated to meet the needs of a growing number of individuals on the autism spectrum who will be seeking residential services in the future,” she said.

“We want to call attention to the family for being forward-thinking about their son,” said Ms. Medve during an interview in her office.

She called this new program “truly a community living arrangement — [the young men] live in the community the same as everyone else and participate in what the community has to offer.”

In addition to the Georgetown house, Ability Beyond Disability has a continuous residential support model in Ridgefield funded by t he state Department of Developmental Services.

“Georgetown is unique in that the family is the landlord,” said Ms. Medve.

In its release, the organization said both it and the Lombardi family “would like to thank the Georgetown community for being so welcoming of the new program. A very special thanks to Bill North of Redding who volunteered many hours on this project. His hard work and advice made a tremendous difference in the renovations of the home.”

Ability Beyond Disability also thanked Dempsey Partners “for a generous donation which was used to purchase equipment to further adapt the environment to the needs of the individuals in the home.

Ability Beyond Disability, which also has headquarters in Mount Kisco, N.Y., provides a wide range of services for more than 2,000 people with a disability that inhibits their activities of daily living.

“We are always evolving to meet people’s needs. We are not the same as a few years ago,” said Ms. Medve. ”…The types of disabilities are changing. We serve people with mental illness, people served by the state Department of Children and Family Services in addition to folks with developmental disabilities.”

In July 2012, Ability Beyond Disability merged with Interlude Inc. to support people with disabilities and mental health challenges.

“We want to call attention to the opportunities for people to apply to work for Ability Beyond Disability,” Ms. Medve said./

As of last July, she said, there are various programs in Norwalk. “We want to pull potential employees from new areas because we keep expanding geographically!”

If interested call 203-775-4700.

To volunteer with the organization, contact Samantha Cosentino at 203-826-3181. For more information on Ability Beyond Disability go to abilitybeyonddisability.org.


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