CANTON Laurie A. Davis isnt sure where her 29-year-old daughter, Sasha M., would be spending her time if she werent enrolled in NYSARCs Transitions program.
Each weekday, Sasha joins several other young adults and teens with developmental disabilities who participate in the program. They gather in the third floor of NYSARCs building at 101 Main St. for daily activities such as cooking meals and taking classes in money management.
They practice life skills including how to use a debit card and stay on a budget while shopping for groceries. They take shopping outings and other field trips.
Its been kind of a godsend for Sasha, Ms. Davis said. Its given her a place to go and do things. I dont know what Sasha would be doing if she didnt have this.
Launched two years ago, the Transitions program has taken off in leaps and bounds. The number of participants has grown from three people to 30.
It has just exploded, program Director Claire Richardson said. Every month were getting five or six more referrals.
Many parents are looking for a place where their child can transition from high school to life as an independent adult, Mrs. Richardson said. The program helps fill that gap.
We try to spend at least half our day in the community so they can practice the life skills theyve learned in a real setting, she said. Everything we do is goal-oriented.
Next month, participants will take an overnight trip to the Destiny USA mall in Syracuse. Other outings have included the State Fair and a spaghetti dinner.
Participants range in age from 15 to 30 and travel from throughout St. Lawrence County to attend the program. The NYSARC programs spacious site features a fully equipped kitchen, a media room with a computer and television and a large meeting room where group lessons are taught. The program is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Attendance is flexible; some participants stay only part of the day.
The success has prompted NYSARC to make plans for a second location in Potsdams Market Street Mall. Other communities may follow, depending on demand and available funding.
In an ideal world, there would be a site in every major town, Mrs. Richardson said.
The program is funded through the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, grants and local fundraising.
At the Canton site, each morning upon arrival, participants sign up for the activities theyd like to attend. Choices include a discussion group that teaches rights, rules and responsibilities and another that focuses on community safety practices such as crossing the street safely. They also can sign up for nutrition, coping and social skills, and money management.
Steven W. Sauter, a 28-year-old participant, said he has learned coping skills such as how to walk away from a situation for a few minutes when hes feeling angry or frustrated. He particularly enjoys learning about community safety and housekeeping skills.
I think the staff here is very friendly, Mr. Sauter said. I love having my friends here, and I like meeting new people. I have a big heart. They call me Romeo.
Miss Davis said she likes to learn about hygiene and also said shes looking forward to next months trip to Destiny USA.
Mr. Sauters mother, Jacqueline Sauter, Canton, credits the program with helping her son become more confident and independent.
I think its a really needed service, Mrs. Sauter said. So many graduate from high school with some learning disability or special need, and they need help transitioning to adult life in the community. Like everyone, they want to live as independently as possible. They want to be contributing, good citizens, and this really gives them those tools.