By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – The nonprofit organization founded in 1973 as Greater Marlborough Programs Inc. (GMPI) changed its name in March to Thrive Support & Advocacy. While Thrive is headquartered in Marlborough, it currently helps families with developmentally disabled children and adults in over 30 communities including Grafton, Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough and Westborough.
Its president and CEO since March 2016 is Michael Rodrigues. He believes that the new name clarifies the organization’s mission and wide-ranging geographical scope.
“Certainly, the name GMPI served the organization well for over 40 years, but it gives the impression that we operate primarily in Marlborough,” he noted. “We’re always searching for that next child, adult or family who needs our services. We exist to empower children and adults with developmental disabilities to lead rich, active and self-directed lives. When we first encounter someone, our focus isn’t on what they can’t do; it’s on what they can do.”
The organization’s former president and CEO Carol Manne retired after serving for 11 years. Rodrigues was particularly interested in leading the organization when he learned of its comprehensive social and recreation program. He’s drawing upon nearly 15 years’ experience as CEO at Triangle, Inc., in Malden, which provides services for individuals with disabilities.
“I came to understand the great need to create social capital, to be in situations where they’re pursuing their interests and making friends in the community,” he said. “At the same time, their caregivers are at home paying attention to other family members, or working, or just resting. I don’t think there’s any organization in Massachusetts that comes close to rivaling our social and recreation program.”
A monthly calendar is filled with activities including dinners prepared and served by the Marlborough Eagles Aerie #3565. Thrive also sponsors sports teams that participate in the Special Olympics. In addition to basketball, bowling, golf, skiing, softball and swimming, a cycling team was recently started. Transportation is available to and from activities.
A popular social activity takes place Wednesday evenings at the downtown Marlborough nightclub Speakers.
“There’s usually 60 to 80 individuals that we serve who hang out, listen to the deejay, dance, and be with friends or significant others,” Rodrigues said. “Again, whoever is living with or caring for them gets a break.”
Thrive also offers residential services. They now have four homes in Marlborough neighborhoods with over 40 residents. Each home is staffed 24 hours daily with funds provided by the Department of Developmental Services. Some individuals have their own apartment and receive several hours of support weekly from Thrive.
In the past year Thrive has expanded its youth services with several new initiatives. Among them is LEAD (Leadership, Experience and Development). LEAD began this past January as a six-month pilot project for what will be a nine-month program beginning in the fall.
“LEAD is aimed at young people with developmental disabilities roughly ages 17 to 25 who see themselves not only as being a part of the community, but potentially being a community leader,” Rodrigues explained.
A group known as LEADERS meets weekly with staff, and monthly with mentors who are recruited from community sectors including corporate, education and government. LEADERS are responsible for organizing community service projects twice within the nine-month period. After becoming LEAD alumni, they serve as some of the mentors for the next group of LEADERS.
Another new initiative this year for that age range is the Young Adult Extended Day Program, held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough. After-school activities are provided such as athletics, computer lab and food preparation. It’s a chance for them to make friends and practice social skills. This program will resume in the fall.
The organization’s rebranding has reinvigorated everyone involved, Rodrigues noted.
“The rebranding has been embraced not only in the community, but also internally: the people that we serve, our staff and volunteers,” he said. “They’re really proud to be known as Thrive. They feel that the word really communicates who we are and our approach.”
For more information about Thrive, visit icanthrive.org. Its major fundraiser is the 33rd annual Jim Forrest Memorial 5K Road Race, Sunday, Sept. 24, 11 a.m., at Wayside Athletic Club in Marlborough. Register at Firm-Racing.com