SPRINGFIELD – Carmelina “Lina” Durocher is only 11, but she is already learning how to promote her creative talents as an entrepreneur.
Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Durocher has found a passion in creating art. She first began painting for her family and then expanded her market.
“She was able to take this passion to create an important milestone in her young life by selling her paintings at fairs, conferences and other community outings,” said Barbara Pilarcik, executive director of The Association for Community Living in Springfield, a nonprofit that provides an array of services to people living with disabilities, including Durocher.
“Through this experience, Lina is learning money management, customer service and socially appropriate behavior as she deals with those who are looking through her artwork,” Pilarcik added. “These efforts have assisted Lina with creating greater independence in her life and allows growth for personal development. She has also learned that hard work pays off.”
Pilarcik’s comments were offered on June 16 during The Association’s Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, where Durocher received an achievement award for acting on her passion and producing and selling her artwork.
“These are just some of the highlights we have experienced,” Pilarcik said. “They don’t begin to capture the many acts of kindness that occur daily at The Association for Community Living.”
After Charis Barrett moved into a new home on Parker Streetin Springfield for people living with a disability, she had a bedroom and a sitting room to call her own, but that didn’t alleviate the behavioral issues she had been struggling with.
What did have an effect on Barrett was an offer from the caregivers at her home, which is managed by The Association for Community Living: if you work on your composure and communication, we’ll help you live your dream to go on an overnight vacation.
Barrett responded to staff, “I’m frustrated, but I’m not mad at you. And I want to go on vacation again.”
Earlier this year, she traveled to Disney World in Florida and came home satisfied – and with dozens of new photographs to show off.
“Charis showed determination in turning things around and proving that she was able to adapt to changes not only in her home, but outside her home, while maintaining her composure and being able to verbalize her disagreements in an appropriate manner,” Pilarcik said at The Association’s Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony where Barrett received an achievement award “for the passion, courage and flavor she has brought to Parker Street while accepting and completing a new challenge.”
Pilarcik noted that Barrett also lost 40 pounds in her new housing community and maintained appropriate boundaries with staff and peers.
Pilarcik told Barrett the organization was proud of her before an audience of roughly 300 individuals served, their families, staff, board members, volunteers and donors.
In 2014, Mary Jane Cleveland dealt with two major changes in her life: She was diagnosed with a serious illness that required surgery, and because of her increasing medical needs, she also lost her independence, moving into a community home.
“It was exhausting and overwhelming for everyone who cared about her. For Mary Jane, though, it was like any other year. She attended each medical appointment with a positive attitude and a laugh,” Pilarcik said. “If she was truly tired, she hardly ever showed it; instead she went on day trips to a whale watch, to Salem, and to New York City. Her energy at times seemed never ending, no matter what her day had been like.”
Cleveland received an achievement award for being a role model for anyone who wants to beat the odds.
Pilarcik told Cleveland the organization was proud of her before an audience of roughly 300 individuals served, their families, staff, board members, volunteers and donors. “MJ’s physicians all stated that her positive attitude and energy had as much, if not more, to do with her subsequent successful recovery than their expertise,” Pilarcik said. “Congratulations MJ on being healthy and ‘one of the gang.’ We wouldn't have it any other way.”
In addition to presenting 11 achievement awards to individuals served in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, Pilarcik also honored staff with awards and discussed milestones the organization accomplished over the past year.
Pilarcik highlighted that the agency:
• Hosted its first-ever Leadership Institute, providing high-quality management training to 20 emerging leaders at the agency.
• Partnered with Baystate Health to present “Crash Reel” to over 200 community members. “Crash Reel” is a documentary that tells the story of a New England family and their son, an Olympic ski boarder who is recovering from a horrific head injury.
• Produced an original play, “Once Upon a Bog,” involving more than 30 teens and adults from the Whole Children and Milestones programs to a sold-out audience.
• Opened a new, fully accessible residential services home on Meadow Street in Agawam.