Wilton SWAG held a successful launch party at the Wilton Playhouse on Wednesday evening, May 8.

SWAG is an acronym for Supporting Work and Growth and is a non profit 501(c)(3) committed to continuing the work of Community Steps for individuals with disabilities. Community Steps has enabled students with disabilities to remain in Wilton to receive education and support until the age of 21, rather than being outplaced to other districts.

SWAG’s mission is to provide employment opportunities to young adults with disables within the Wilton community. It grew out of a group of diverse individuals who have an interest in helping young adults with disabilities gain employment in Wilton. This group includes teachers and administrators from Wilton Schools and parents of children with disabilities. Before the Community Steps program started two years ago, young adults with disabilities completed their 18-21 education outside of Wilton and when they turned 21 and returned to Wilton there was a lack of community support and resources to help them find employment.

“It’s been a pleasure working with these folks over the last year,” Andrea Leonardi, Wilton’s assistant superintendent of special services, said. “What this Wilton group has achieved in such a short amount of time is incredible, and is a testament to everyone involved. I want to give a big thanks to Mellisa Barrett whose heart is here tonight–even though she is home with her new baby, she has been a guiding light over the last two years.”

Board member Scott Ganse echoed this sentiment.

“Thank you to all the board members who made this happen. We have been through a lot of peaks and valleys and we are so grateful for the support we have received for our daughter. I volunteer because I want to give back, even when my children have graduated and moved on, I will still be here helping. It’s important to understand that a disability is what someone has, not what someone is. We all have challenges and hurdles to overcome, working through these challenges brings self esteem, self respect, joy and happiness in our lives. These young adults want the same opportunities so they can overcome their individual challenges just like everyone else. We all have a profound commitment to our community and a better life for everyone.”

The cessation of services at the age of 21 has historically been a challenging time for many parents. The SWAG program aims to support students and ease the transition from education to work for young adults with disabilities.

“Parents of young adults with special needs often refer to the time after the age of 21 as falling off a cliff,” Ganse added.  “The analogy is used to describe the feeling many parents have when their son or daughter ages out of school programming both academic and social support are suddenly gone and the footprint for the future remains unclear. Employment opportunities and social connections are limited for these capable and engaged individuals Some may not secure employment and social isolation often follows. SWAG means supporting work and grown. SWAG’s goals are to make these beautiful young adults very valued and included in their community. SWAG attempts to provide meaningful employment for these young adults while promoting social growth and community awareness in Wilton.”

Continuing the analogy, he added that SWAG asks for your support in two main ways:  donation and employment initiatives.

“We know that together we can provide a community that is committed to the future for those with disabilities. “Rather than falling off a cliff, let’s give these young adults the ability to climb the mountain with all its peaks.”

What’s next? The group is hoping to engage with Wilton Chamber of Commerce members and people who have employed people with disabilities. They believe that putting everyone in the room together will provide an opportunity to educate potential employers and provide information.

The group is active on Facebook and Instagram and has a newly-launched website. Members would particularly love to hear from employers who may be interested in learning more about providing employment opportunities for young adults with disabilities.

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