“Patience, a Sense of Humor, and a Loving Heart”

FAIRFIELD—On any particular day in the Adult Day Program at Saint Catherine Center, what you’ll notice is a sense of purposeful activity—and beneath that, a feeling of warmth and respect.

“Consistency and a calm atmosphere are key to having a ‘great day’,” notes Brenda DeMattio, Director. “A lot of factors go into maintaining that—starting with staff. Patience, a sense of humor, and a loving heart are required—all things you can’t teach. Our staff members work really well together. They are awesome.”

As their Mission Statement reads, “rooted in Gospel values that affirm the dignity of every person, Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs provides unified pastoral and educational support for individuals with disabilities, and serves as a centralized resource for the Diocesan community.

Through direct service at Saint Catherine Academy or their Adult Day Program, and support in the Parishes or Catholic Schools for faith formation, the Center strives to foster the educational, spiritual and social well-being of people with disabilities.”

The center is built around the following core values: We respect the dignity and diversity of each person. We serve people of all races, ethnicities, faiths, and economic backgrounds. We focus on the total well-being of each person we serve. We create a supportive and welcoming atmosphere, where each person feels a sense of belonging. We celebrate the abilities and successes of each person. We seek to build interpersonal relationships in a nurturing community. We bring hope and joy to our students, clients, families, staff, and community partners.

The Adult Services Program
“The Adult Services Program provides a small, caring environment with a variety of activities and an appropriate peer group to stimulate social interaction and build social skills,” states the Adult Services webpage. The goals of the program are to create the opportunity to participate in community life, develop life skills competencies, foster a safe, stimulating environment, support the ability to make personal choices for the future, and to develop and maintain relationships with family members and friends.

The Day Begins
Staff arrive by 7:30 am to review the day’s schedule and coordinate transportation runs for the day. Five vans, two of which are wheelchair-equipped, head out each morning with two staff to pick-up sites in Westport, Weston, Trumbull, Bridgeport, and Fairfield.

How the day is spent depends on each participant’s Individual Plan (“IP”), which is developed and reviewed every six months with their parent or guardian. Staff are assigned to participants on a rotating basis. Schedules are created in 15-minute to one-hour blocks. To build skills and maintain variety, time is balanced as much as possible between individual, small group, and large group activities. The first hour is usually spent getting settled and personal care goals, such as brushing hair and teeth. Ms. Yvonne, the nurse, is available to dispense medication or assist with any physical issues.

Wellness and Vocational Activities
Then, on a rotating schedule, some individuals go straight to the work-out room to spend time on the treadmill, stationary bike, or stretching. Others will be in the project room practicing sorting, packing, or shredding, among other activities—all transferable vocational skills. Others will make use of the kitchen and Life Skills Apartment to practice setting a table, emptying the dishwasher, or making the bed. Those who are able have some choice over what activity they want to do.

“There’s a lot of care-giving, but it’s not ‘custodial’. Our young adults are engaged—in whatever way they can be,” Brenda says.

In addition to each participant’s goals, socializing and learning to work together are important benefits of the program at Saint Catherine. Whether it’s preparing lunch alongside each other, collecting the mail, or preparing the garden boxes for planting, teamwork is encouraged. There is usually a role of some sort for everyone to play. Staff work one-on-one with those who need it. For others, staff help to stimulate interaction.
Working Together

Physical activity is important. In weekly music sessions with “Mr. Matt,” participants have the opportunity to express themselves, singing songs together, dancing, and playing drums. Another regular program, Theaterworks, engages participants to play roles in familiar stories. This fall, we will be offering some gentle yoga.

Offsite activities every week include bowling and swimming (followed by a pizza lunch!). A few of our participants volunteer at local sites, such as Gilbertie’s Herb Farm and Marshall’s, where they perform simple tasks. Regular outings to the petting zoo at Silverman’s Farm, a picnic at Sherwood Island, and other activities help our young adults adjust to new settings and enjoy each other’s company.

“The day is pretty much non-stop. The structure and a ‘Plan B’ gives us flexibility to go-with-the-flow if there’s a change in the schedule, or someone is having a hard time,” says Brenda.

To communicate with parents, each participant has a notebook where staff writes down highlights, concerns, or reminders. Parents can respond with notes of their own.

Around 2:30, after lunch and relaxation—such as a good game of Wii bowling—some parents begin arriving for pick-up, and staff bring the vans around for the others’ return trip home. The day is almost done—except for Brenda and Sonia Vielot, the Assistant Director, who put together the next day’s schedules.

Not every day at the Center is a “great” day, but there are usually great moments in each, revealed in small and large ways. As Lori Leskin, a Center parent, says, “Sami loves going out to the van each morning, peering in to see who is there to pick her up—usually with a big smile on her face. As a mother of a non-verbal child, seeing that smile on her face is extremely comforting, assuring me that she is happy to be on her way.”
And so we begin again, each day.

The original form of this article was first published on the Saint Catherine Center website. For more information on The Center or the Adult Service please contact or call 203.540.5381.