SWAG launches at Playshop

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The SWAG launch party was at the Wilton Playshop. — Contributed photo

Wilton SWAG held a successful launch party at the Wilton Playshop earlier this month.

SWAG is an acronym for Supporting Work and Growth and is a nonprofit (501-C) committed to continuing the work of Community Steps for individuals with disabilities. Community Steps has enabled students with disabilities to remain in Wilton to receive education and support until the age of 21, rather than being outplaced to other districts.

SWAG’s mission is to provide employment opportunities to young adults with disabilities within the Wilton community. It grew out of a group of diverse individuals who have an interest in helping young adults with disabilities gain employment here. This group includes teachers and administrators from Wilton schools and parents of children with disabilities.

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Andrea Leonardi, left, with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice. — Contributed photo

Before the Community Steps program started two years ago, young adults with disabilities completed their 18-21 education outside of Wilton and when they turned 21 and returned home there was often a lack of community support and resources to help them find jobs.

“It’s been a pleasure working with these folks over the last year,” said Andrea Leonardi, assistant superintendent of special services. “What this Wilton group has achieved in such a short amount of time is incredible, and is a testament to everyone involved. I want to give a big thanks to Melissa Barrett, whose heart is here tonight, even though she is home with her new baby. She has been a guiding light over the last two years.”

Board member Scott Ganse said, “Thank you to all the board members who made this happen. We have been through a lot of peaks and valleys and we are so grateful for the support we have received for our daughter. I volunteer because I want to give back, even when my children have graduated and moved on, I will still be here helping.

“It’s important to understand that a disability is what someone has, not what someone is. We all have challenges and hurdles to overcome, working through these challenges brings self-esteem, self-respect, joy and happiness in our lives. These young adults want the same opportunities so they can overcome their individual challenges just like everyone else. We all have a profound commitment to our community and a better life for everyone,” he said.

The cessation of services at the age of 21 has historically been a challenging time for many parents. The SWAG program aims to support students and ease the transition from education to work for young adults with disabilities.

“Parents of young adults with special needs often refer to the time after the age of 21 as falling off a cliff,” said Ganse.

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The SWAG Board of Directors, from left, Scott Ganse, Doug Bayer, Liz Bayer, Laurie Collins, Franceca Monroe, Isobel Ehrenhaus, Naomi Williams and Suzanna Sexton. — Contributed photo

The analogy is used to describe the feeling many parents have when their son or daughter ages out of school programming and both academic and social support are suddenly gone and the future remains unclear. Employment opportunities and social connections are limited for these capable and engaged individuals. Some may not secure employment and social isolation often follows. SWAG attempts to provide meaningful employment for these young adults while promoting social growth and community awareness in Wilton.

SWAG seeks support in two primary ways: donations and employment initiatives. In the future, the group hopes to engage with members of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce and those who have employed people with disabilities. Putting everyone in the room together will provide an opportunity to educate potential employers and provide information.

The group is active on Facebook and Instagram and has a website at wiltonswag.com. Employers who may be interested in learning more about providing employment opportunities for young adults with disabilities are encouraged to connect.

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