Whether it’s on the Museum Mile or at a camp in the Berkshires or at an improv club in Koreatown, Melanie Freeman is there for the people she supports. Now a Community Support Professional with AHRC New York City‘s Day Habilitation Without Walls, (DHWOW,) Melanie has found success with a wide variety of people and activities.
“I wasn’t entirely sure what DHWOW would be,” Melanie said in the café of the Museum of the City of New York, where Kyle Mendez, a person she supports, mans the information desk on Tuesdays and Fridays. “It’s a lot more flexible compared to facility-based day hab. There’s room for creativity, and there’s a lot more teaching moments when you’re outside. You have to deal with everyday situations all the time.”
Sharing Passions and Life Experiences
Melanie’s lifelong interest in the theater led to more opportunities to work with disadvantaged populations. “I wanted to use theater as a tool to help people. I was doing projects with people in prisons, people with special needs, and the elderly with dementia.”
This led to a natural progression at AHRC NYC, where Melanie helped organize an eight-week summer session teaching improvisational, writing, and acting skills to people with disabilities receiving services through DHWOW. The classes are held at the Magnet Theater Training Center, a renowned improv troupe. On September 27, 2017, the group convened for their first fall meeting.
“We teach real-life skills such as improving social relations through improvisation,” Melanie said. Through activities such as word association, story creation, and role-playing, Kyle and cohorts Olivia Amos, Misa Moon, and Aaron Stanley learn communication and listening skills in a collaborative and supportive environment.
Melanie started her AHRC NYC career at Camp Anne after hearing about the agency from a friend while traveling through the South Pacific. She got the camp job through a phone interview and then became a Client Service Coordinator at Bush Terminal before starting her current position.
“I sort of fell into it but also had experience with people with disabilities,” Melanie explained. “My mother was a special needs teacher and used to take me into work when I was on holiday.” Melanie said that working in DHWOW has been exactly what she hoped it would become. “I get to be hands-on and actually teach, which is what I love to do.”
Finding Direction at the Museum
Back behind the information desk, Kyle pointed some tourists in the direction towards their chosen exhibit as Melanie looked on.
“Kyle’s been great the whole time we’ve been working together,” Melanie said. “He has really progressed–he used to be very dependent. He’d say ‘Can you do this for me, can you help me with that?’ Now he’ll just do it, email people himself, call people himself.”
Melanie said that she has been going back to school to get a post-graduate degree in psychology, with a goal of continuing and expanding her work with creative arts therapies. Whatever she chooses to do, she’ll have at least one big supporter.
“Melanie’s the best,” Kyle said. “Every Friday, me and Mel go to the pizza parlor to meet with my friends. Fridays are the best. She’s the best staff ever.”