Tarrytown’s YAI (Young Adult Institute) day habilitation facility, which services people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has recently launched exciting new programming for its members. Along with a multimedia and podcasting studio, their revamped art room provides opportunities for members to develop their passions into skillsets geared toward careers in the modern world.
The impetus to switch up programming sparked during the pandemic, which was especially hard hitting for people with disabilities. When the day program shut its doors in mid-March 2020, members had to stay home, greatly disrupting their routines, social lives, and therapeutic care. Some employees were reallocated to residence facilities, while others were tasked with reinventing how to reach and provide programming to remote members.
Resources and funding were also hard to come by, so if members didn’t have the necessary technology to Zoom into programming, it was even harder to serve them. Despite the challenges and lack of funding during a frustrating and painful time, Ken Reedy, Supervisor of Curriculum & Workforce Development, saw an opportunity in their empty building. “As awful as it was that we had to shut down, at some point I started reframing how I was looking at it,” he said. He started thinking of ways they could change things up.
Members were also experimenting as they adjusted to life in quarantine. Luz Macias, a young woman with cerebral palsy, began beading jewelry as a form of occupational therapy to keep her hands strong. She quickly improved at her new hobby and decided to form a business.
Inspired by the passion she demonstrated, Reedy gutted a classroom and turned it into a professional art studio where Macias and other members could run businesses from. Through the program, Macias met with a local CEO to exchange tips and talk shop.
“Learning about entrepreneurialism helps my business,” Macias said. She’s now the CEO of Beautiful Lights, a jewelry shop with a recently launched Etsy store (etsy.com/shop/BeautifullightsbyLuz/). “It’s important to learn new skills and learn new things.”
Though day habilitation isn’t back to full capacity yet, their new programs are in full swing, including the launch of a new multimedia and podcasting studio in May, which was made possible by grants.
The studio is run by staff member Ebony Hartwell, who saw it as an opportunity to modernize programming. “People with disabilities have been learning the same things for years. It was time to listen to what they would like to do, like to learn,” she said. “Running the podcast room has been so much fun, to see how people with disabilities love talking and seeing their faces on TV, brings me so much joy.”
Current podcasts and web-series, streamed on their YouTube channel (Studio305 Podcast), include sports show “The Recap,” pop-culture program “Reviews by Chris,” and “The Derrick Show” hosted by Derrick Singlar. “Podcasting is hard work, but I like doing interviews,” Singlar said. “It’s about friendship — it’s from my heart.
The revitalized programming has also provided staff with a boost. “This makes my job so much fun,” said Madelyn Toledo, a staff member. “I love being here.”
June is a big fundraising month for YAI Westchester – along with their biggest annual event, the Central Park Challenge on June 4, you can contact Reedy to learn more ways to support the program: Kenneth.Reedy@yai.org. “We have to let people know that we exist, and programs like this exist,” said Reedy, who hopes this increased visibility will make a difference. “People with disabilities have hopes and dreams and talents, and we want to get that out there as much as possible.”