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Moving closer to community integration


You can expect to see Olean Center participants out and about in the community more in the coming months.


As envisioned by the ADA more than 20 years ago, the focus of all Rhode Island centers serving those with intellectual/developmental disabilities will increasingly be on community integration rather than center-based programs.


What caused this change?

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Part of the answer is the pandemic and part of the answer is that it’s simply the way it should be.

The Olean Center has always worked to get participants out into the community, but this kind of one-on-one or small group service is more costly. Large-group, center-based activities are far more economical, but they run counter to the 1990 ADA mission, which is to “…make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”

As Karen Babik, Director of Adult Services puts it, this change is long overdue.

“It will provide a more natural world for people to live in whether it’s getting out in the community or doing more for themselves at home,” she said. “Individuals will have more focused attention so they can do the things they want to do and work on the goals they want to work on rather than sharing resources and staffing.”

At the core of this change, however, is the Consent Decree issued by the U.S. District Court in 2014 and signed by then-governor Lincoln Chafee outlining requirements and a timeline for the state to abide by the ADA by 2024. The decree was the result of a lawsuit brought against the State by the federal Department of Justice on behalf of all residents with developmental disabilities.

Among other elements, the decree calls for increased wages for those who work directly with disabled residents, and for the State to reverse its reliance on segregated settings, which the U.S. Department of Justice found violated the Integration Mandate of the ADA. While some progress has been made, the U.S. District Court Judge overseeing the decree indicated recently that the State is not making satisfactory progress toward compliance and took steps to ensure the State continues along the path of integration. On July 12, the judge scheduled a five-day “show cause” hearing for Oct. 18 to 22.

While these formal proceedings are underway, the dedicated professionals who work daily to support those with developmental disabilities continue their work to improve community integration and increase opportunities for independence.  

“The main goal is integration of our individuals into the community and that may not always involve a staff person,” Babik explained. “If someone wants to join the Westerly Chorus or a church chorus or workout at the Y, perhaps they have a friend in that group who can take them just like you or I might make arrangements to ride with someone else.”

The ideal approach is for Olean Center staff members to offer support in an area that a participant truly cannot handle on their own, but then to provide support toward independence.

“If we’ve done our job well, many participants will no longer require the help of a staff member to be involved in community activities,” Babik said.  “Once we show them the routine of getting to the Y or their church of wherever, many will be able to take it from there.”

Executive Director Ruth Tureckova explained that each Olean Center participant has an Independent Support Plan, which is similar to a student’s Individual Education Plan. Each participant has interests and goals, and that plan outlines how the individual and Center staff can work to attain those goals.

“Our goal is to help a participant build a natural support system that goes beyond their family to include friends and community members, anyone who can help them be active members of the greater community,” Ruth said.

The emphasis on more individualized programming increased in April 2020 when the pandemic forced an end to large group settings. “It gave us the opportunity to switch from isolated programs at the Center to integration with the community,” she said.

To keep the momentum going, Ruth has connected with Maturity Works, an internship program for adults re-entering the workforce.  Our Maturity Works staff member will gather information on community assets to match them with the interests expressed by Center participants. Karen explained that this effort, referred to as community mapping, should result in new opportunities for more participants.

“Our direction was always supposed to be community based, and the least restricted setting was always our goal,” she said. Now, the Olean Center is much closer to realizing that goal, which means participants are much closer to realizing their goals. 

“…make sure that
people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”

“If we’ve done our job well, many participants will no longer require the help of a staff member to be involved in community activities,”


Martin Chan, with his resume in hand, talks with Job Developer Peter Boardman in the Olean Center Vocational Program office about the next steps in his application process for a job at the Weekapaug Golf Club.

Building relationships – and bank accounts!


When it comes to community-based day programming, the Olean Center Vocational team plays a vital role in a variety of ways.

In addition to getting out in the community, individuals can establish relationships, gain an increased sense of pride, and earn some money for a greater level of independence.

Alan Yu has worked at McQuade’s Marketplace in Westerly for more than five years, and on a recent quiet Tuesday morning he and other McQuade’s employees were stocking shelves before the afternoon rush.

Alan was unloading a full cart of boxes in the condiment aisle. He agreed to have his photo taken but remained focused on ensuring that older stock on the ketchup shelf was brought forward before adding new stock. He gave the same meticulous attention to reorganizing and stocking the salad dressings next.

Martin Chan has held several jobs, and on an early August morning he was in the Center’s Vocational Training office discussing a new position at Weekapaug Golf Club with Peter Boardman, his Job Developer at the Center. Martin had worked at the “99” restaurant and Precision Fitness previously, but the pandemic put a halt to that.

“I want to make some money to be able to do my own stuff,” Martin said while working with Peter on the logistics of transportation and pre-employment paperwork.

Martin had recently completed his work trial at the club. If he gets hired, he’ll be clearing tables and helping the wait staff with whatever they need. “It went fantastic” Martin said of the trial. “They have a deck in the back and when you go out there you can feel the fresh air. The air is so crisp and nice.”

The Vocational Program has opened other avenues for Martin as well.

During his time at Precision Fitness prior to the pandemic, he helped set up and clean equipment and was able to work alongside some of the trainers. With his natural interest in gyms, Martin asked Peter how he might be able to become a trainer. Now, Peter is supporting Martin’s efforts to complete an online personal training certification course.

Martin is eager to get back to Precision Fitness, which he considers his favorite job, because in addition to his interest in physical exercise, “Derek is a really nice guy,” he said, referring to Derek Vacca, owner of the facility. For now, however, the golf club position is the priority and part of the discussion between Martin and Peter on that August morning involved transportation to and from the club.

With the help of Center staff Martin learned to use the local shuttle bus service, so they discussed the use of a pass to help reduce the cost. It’s that kind of support that Peter and his colleague, Dawn Rathbun, a Job Coach, are there to provide. The level of help depends on each participant’s abilities and much of the support comes at the outset of employment. Once employed, Dawn checks in periodically on site, but otherwise the work relationship is left to the individual and employer.

“People used to think ‘we’ll call the Olean Center and pay them for workers,’ but that has changed,” Peter said. “It’s between the individual and the employer now and we support the relationship however we can with training, coaching, transportation, whatever it takes.”

Dawn added that local businesses are seeing more value in the program as well.

“I think some people are realizing how high functioning our participants are and how much they can really help,” she said. “And the other employees see how hard they work and say ‘well if they can do it I guess I can too.’”

Supporting participants in the vocational program is a comprehensive process, starting with pre-vocational classroom training provided by Dawn followed by job development with Peter that includes creating a resume, completing assessments to identify an individual’s strengths, interview skills, and figuring out the best method of transportation. Once a placement has been made, Dawn also provides on-site job coaching. If all goes well, there’s a “fade-away” period during which training and other on-site support decreases to just monthly check-ins to help with job retention. The check-ins are Dawn’s responsibility and allow her to observe the employee and address any issues so she can ensure a good relationship with employers and colleagues.

“We think of it as a two-customer approach,” Peter said. “The employer is just as much our customer as the individual.”

There are currently 23 businesses employing (link list) Olean Center participants and one of the many benefits to employers is a tax credit.

The example of Martin and the Weekapaug Golf Club represents an ideal case. The club reached out to the Center after hearing a news report on NBC 10 about another participant’s successful work experience, Peter said.

From there, Martin was identified as a potential employee and a work trial was scheduled. A work trial, or on-the-job training, is a way to bypass the formal interview process for two key reasons. A traditional interview can pose an early hurdle to employment for Center participants, and, as Peter noted, “interviewing isn’t what they’ll be doing in the job!”

Peter has been with the Center for eight years and in the field for 13 years. Dawn started at the Center in 2015 and moved to the Vocational Department in 2017. Both enjoy the rewards of seeing successful job placements for individuals.

“They’re excited to be working. They’re excited to be making money. They’re excited to share their stories with their friends,” Dawn said.  

“I want to make some money to be able to do my own stuff”

“The employer is just as much our customer as the individual.”

Thanks to generous grants from Dime Bank Foundation and the Nick Vuono Charity Fund, the Olean Center will continue providing music therapy in collaboration with Hands in Harmony for local participants in our Children's Service Program!  Because of Covid-19 the therapy is right now virtual--giving children the opportunity to benefit from the safety of their homes.  


Fatima Abbott, Clinical Supervisor, LICSW, who has worked with children for over 25 years found therapy extraordinarily helpful for children. She describes the benefits like this:

       "Through the years I have seen how music has helped children in a variety of capacities. For example,
        through the use of repetitive sounds in songs, I have seen children more engaged and working 
        harder on their communication objectives.  With children who struggle with memory, I have seen how
        putting academic information into a song format 
has helped them recall the information. I have seen
        gains in children's fine motor skills with the use of adaptive percussive instruments such as maracas.


        Music therapy groups also help children. I have used songs to help children identify feelings and how   
        to cope with feelings of frustration and anger.  I have also incorporated music in "safe/calm down zone"

        as part of self-regulation strategies. I have used musical activities to assist children with social skills
       building such as practicing greeting, tum taking, eye contact, and working cooperatively with others. 


       "There is no doubt that music affects our mood, and I love using it to get the outcomes I am looking
        for in the children we service.  Also, what is truly amazing about music therapy is that it is fun for
        children. Therefore, they are working on the goals and objectives without realizing they are working on            them. 
With this kind of buy-in from children, success is inevitable."

Wooden Drum

Help us fulfill the dreams for individuals with disabilities

Your generous donation supports:

  • Access to technology for children's schoolbooks

  • Remote job training and interview training

  • Children's art supplies

  • Music therapy for children

  • Remote exercise classes

  • Transportation to Provide Services

  • Operational expenses such as utility bills and building maintenance

If you prefer to make a general contribution, that's great too!

Every donation counts!

Even the Coronavirus can't take away our smiles.  We followed the Governor's directives and closed the Center in late March for everyone's safety, but we have been staying in touch with participants and families and ensuring they have what they need.  Many participants and their families have welcomed home visits, some have been communicating through Telehealth, and some are getting together to take a hike, getting take-out and having a picnic in the park...we are all getting so creative!  And, some Napatree participants deemed "essential workers" have been on the job--supported by our staff to ensure they are safe and doing well.  Check out these recent pictures! We'll be adding more soon!

Sharon's beautiful smile
Sharon's beautiful smile

meeting with staff at home.

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Jesse creating
Jesse creating

and selling beautiful potholders!

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Ed on his bike
Ed on his bike

getting great exercise!

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Sharon's beautiful smile
Sharon's beautiful smile

meeting with staff at home.

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Thank you so much to the following recent champions of our work: 


Andrade-Faxon Charities for Children
Azzinaro Architects Associates, Inc.

Big Y's Mystic CT Store
Dick's World of Wines

Electric Boat Employees' Community Services Association

First Financial Advisory Services, Inc.

The John E. Fogarty Foundation

Geraldine B. Cunningham Associates, LLC

Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island
Hoyt, Filipetti and Malaghan, LLC

Jeffrey Kasle, Attorney at Law

McQuades Marketplace- Westerly

Newport Fed Charitable Foundation
Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce
Ocean Community Chamber Foundation

Ocean House Fund for Charitable Giving
Rhode Island Foundation Covid Behavioral Health Fund

Rhode Island Foundation - Non-Profit Support Fund

Rotary Club of Westerly Foundation

State of RI Legislature - Sponsored by RI Senator Dennis Algiere
Stop and Shop

Thorp and Trainer Insurance

The Wine Store

Walmart Foundation Community Giving - Westerly Store
Westerly Lion's Club

Westerly Meeting of Friends

Westerly Rotary Club

Wireless Zone Foundation for Giving