Marie Bellanton says that she has always been one to support those who need it most. “I’ve been working jobs that help people for a long time,” she explained. Starting in 2016, she entered a new phase of her career when she joined AHRC New York City’s Day Habilitation Without Walls program as a Community Support Professional.
Some of Marie’s favorite moments in Without Walls included further opportunities to contribute. “The people I supported really enjoyed volunteering and they get to see a whole new part of life,” Marie said. Marie fondly recalled volunteering at a recreation center in Chelsea and at a church on the Lower East Side that ran a food pantry. She worked with Tara Fialco once per going to the Salvation Army and Silvercrest Nursing Home where she would play the piano for people in need of uplifting tunes.
Switching from a community-based program and moving to a residence after the pandemic started brought some nervous anticipation. “I didn’t know what I was getting into—I had never worked in the group home setting before,” Marie said. “I’m able to walk here from my home, which is nice. I came in and I knew Michelle Aviles and two other people here.”
It took some time for Marie to settle in and learn the strategies to support people in a residence. Once she did and once it was safe to explore outside, Marie was able to integrate her community-based skills. “There’s so much different culture here for us to experience in Queens. There’s Flushing-Meadows Park, the golf course, all kinds of different foods.”
Reconnecting with Old Friends
Marie and the residents also took advantage of art supplies provided by AHRC NYC and community partners. “Being creative and going out when the weather is nice really help with everything,” Marie said. “We love to sit outside and open the back porch. There is a lake nearby and we love to walk by and see the swans.” Marie and Michelle have taken steps to bring their friends as close as to the residence as possible. “We did a zoom call from the lake so that Michelle’s friends from Weingold could see the neighborhood and the swans! When things get better, we would love to help them have a nice picnic with all of their friends in the park.”
She’s come a long way from that initial nervousness, saying “I’ve grown to love it here at the residence. We all work together here to make sure that everyone is coping with COVID together as best we could. We’re doing that we can during these times because it is hard for everyone.”
Marie has managed to see things she never expected as a result of working at home with the people she supports. “I think I’ve learned more about the capabilities of the people we support than ever before–how they are able to preserve and how they are able to adapt to everything beside us. We are getting to a good place now. I’m so impressed by what they’ve been able to achieve.”