By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Creative outlets give people a chance to express themselves while bonding with their peers. But due to mobility issues, age, mental illness or economic instability, many don’t have access to them. That’s what New England Dream Center (NEDC) strives to change. Its new Shrewsbury facility in Liberty Church at 495 Hartford Turnpike Road offers a Social Day Center (SDC) program and an Adult Day Health (ADH) program. The nonprofit’s programs give lower-income elderly and people with mental illness or developmental challenges the chance to socialize and reveal their talents.
Founded in 2006, NEDC recently moved its programs from Worcester to Shrewsbury. Michael Leo, director of the SDC program, couldn’t be more pleased for his mostly urban clients.
“The tranquility of being able to walk outside, watch the leaves change and have access to an outdoor patio and picnic area is a true treat,” Leo said.
Helping NEDC clients find that tranquility is a big part of the organization’s mission. While many of the SDC clients live alone and fight isolation, depression and anxiety, most of the ADH clients live in rest homes. Leo said that many in the latter group “have suffered
abuse or neglect at some point in their lives and have withdrawn within themselves.”
“They are beautiful, interesting and amazing people who are really the forgotten in our society,” he said.
Both programs strive to develop clients’ confidence in a nurturing community. Leo said that the SDC wants to help them “feel safe, joyful, and lead them to an increased quality of life…” He added that the goal for the ADH clients is similar.
“The goal of the ADH program is to not only help provide the necessary physical care of our clients, but to show them that they are loved,” Leo said.
To meet these goals, the NEDC tries to create a family environment by doing things such as holding holiday parties for its clients who otherwise might not have the chance to attend such events. It also reaches into a toolbox of creative and social outlets. They include art, photography, drama, crafts, writing and baking activities.
But one of the most effective tools is music. In addition to holding 20-25 concerts for its clients each year, the NEDC engages them in musical activities. Leo recalls a drum circle in which the participants spoke four different languages and had different backgrounds and abilities. He could see that “none of that mattered.”
“Everyone was playing songs together, smiling and enjoying each other through the transcendence of music,” Leo said.
Although Leo has seen many transformations, one stands out. It’s of a woman he refers to as “Mary” (not her real name), who was confined to her mother’s basement apartment until her mother passed away. Afterward, she transitioned into a nursing home.
“Mary arrived at the ADH program full of fear and very withdrawn,” he recalled. “She sat in the corner by herself, arms folded, not making eye contact with anybody. She would not respond when spoken to. She didn’t participate in any of the activities offered, but she could feel something – something real. She was, for the first time in her life, now spending her days in a supportive, caring, social environment. Over time, Mary started to open up. Today, Mary is one of the most cheerful people you will meet. That’s true healing right there. Restoration.”
Leo hopes NEDC can facilitate many similar transformations for people in the Shrewsbury area.
“It’s a blessing to be able to serve people over here,” he said.
For information about the SDC program, contact Leo at 508-757-3333, ext. 2010. For information about the ADH program contact its director, Gregory Thomas, at 508-757-3333, ext. 2003.