Inspiring Smiles

There’s been a lot of buzz about The Village opening up in Lodi, and for good reason. If you’re not already familiar, The Village is an adult day program for young adults who are intellectually and developmentally disabled (I/DD). The founder, Kathy Piazza, was inspired by her daughter, Hannah. If you check out The Villages website (click here) you can read a bit about the Piazza family’s story. Hannah was born with a rare condition called Trisomy 18. I didn’t know what Trisomy 18 was, so after interviewing Kathy and meeting Hannah, I did a little research on the condition. Like Down Syndrome, Trisomy 18 is caused by an extra chromosome. We don’t see it as often as Down Syndrome though because very few people with this condition live very long lives. According to one site,  “Although 10 percent or more may survive to their first birthdays, there are children with Trisomy 18 that can enjoy many years of life with their families, reaching milestones and being involved with their community.” So after reading this, I thought, “That makes Hannah kind of a miracle baby!” She’s not a baby anymore, of course. Now she’s a young woman. I like to believe we’re all put on Earth to do something only we can do. Maybe one of the reasons Hannah defied the odds to make it into her 20’s was to inspire Kathy and her husband to open a place like The Village and serve an underserved population in our community.

The Village is more than just a day center. There are 15 young men and women who attend and, like a kid with special needs in school has an IEP (an Individualized Education Program), the young men and women at the Village have individual goals.  The Village helps these participants meet those goals. So, to that extent, they have what you could almost compare to an individualized curriculum that The Village helps them complete. But it’s not just completing these goals that make The Village a valuable place for families. What I found so special about the program is the quality of life it brings to those involved. It creates quality of life for the young men and women who are program participants and it creates quality of life for their caregivers. “They (the parents) want their child to have a great quality of life and that’s hopefully what we can provide is just a little enhancement to their day.” shared Kathy.

So what does a day look like at The Village? “The day is 7:30 to 2:00.” explained Kathy. “Our folks come by either their parents transporting them or by some other transportation method. We start the morning with them choosing what they want to do. Then we do exercise, so far that’s been Youtube videos for walking off the pounds, or yoga videos or zumba. Then they usually do an activity of their choosing. So there’s always games and puzzles going on and crafts. Then there’s snack and then lunch. We have a different activity going on in the afternoon and then everyone gets picked up at 2:00. It’s just a nice flow of the day.” Sounds like a nice day, right? If you follow The Village on Facebook, you’ll see the 15 students along with their teachers having fun and going on little outings around the community. That’s one of the great benefits of being right in downtown- they can easily be an active part of the community without dealing with the hassle of transportation. The day Kathy and I held this interview, the program participants had just visited Mokelumne Brew House for some fresh coffee. They also walk over to the WOW Museum to explore and visit other places in downtown.

Being able to be social and have friends is what we love most and makes life worth living. No one wants to feel alone or isolated. The Village is creating community and friendships for program participants and their caregivers. “This gal hasn’t been in a program for 12 years, because there hasn’t been one available that suits her needs. Apparently her mom was concerned about how she would transition back into a program but she loves it. She was actually driving her mom crazy on the first weekend  because she wanted to get up and come to the program. Her parents have done a great job of keeping her busy but they can’t be her all in all. So it’s changed her life because she gets to come here and do fun activities, socialize with other people, and go out on community walks.” shared Kathy. This girl’s mom has also benefited from the program, because for the last 12 years, she has been the primary caregiver for her daughter. “So her mom has been at home with her every day for the past 12 years, just like I’ve been with my daughter for the past two years. It’s a lot of work and it’s isolating. This mom in particular told us she went out for the first time and got her hair cut by herself and cried. She just cried about being able to get her hair done. Because even though her daughter is super high functioning, she can walk in the door with her, it’s still… you’ve got a constant companion. So we’re just filled with happy stories.” If you’re a parent reading this, you can probably relate. I have two young kids, an infant and a toddler. I love them so, so much but sometimes I still need a child free moment to catch my breath. The fact that this woman hasn’t been able to get a simple haircut by herself in 12 years and now she could? As a mom, that made me tear up with happy tears for her!

There’s a lot of great things happening at The Village. They’re doing programs that create wonderful days for their participants. From smoothie making to visiting the WOW Museum, to morning Zumba, participants are loving the opportunity to hang out with friends while doing activities they enjoy. Participants, like Hannah, get to explore the world in a safe, appropriate environment, while still being a part of the community. Parents and caregivers are loving that their kids can enjoy a more independent, quality life. “I just wanted everyone to have a great day, whatever that looks like. If it’s that doing manipulatives on the floor because you’re non ambulatory or if its using the promethean board or if it’s being able to use the label maker to make all the labels for my files whatever that looks like to you... If you have a safe, fun place to do that with people who are your friends, then you’re going to have a great day. And I just really want the community to feel a part of it.” The Village is growing to serve families in other ways too with their special community center hours. Saturday, October 27th, the downtown will host their annual trick or treating and this year, The Village is opening their doors for the first time as a community center. They’ll be handing out candy to all families, plus offering crafts and games for I/DD families who stop by. Kathy started The Village because she was inspired by her daughter Hannah. She wanted Hannah to have a place to go where she could be happy, and where other I/DD adults could go to be happy. Now open, The Village is doing just that: making people happy and giving families quality of life, so everyone can have a great day.