Since moving from Putnam County to Vermont, we have both felt a huge hole in our day to day life---and in our hearts. One of the most important things that The Extended Family’s micro-business work sessions at The Freight House provided for Amanda and myself was a structured, cohesive and predictable environment where if someone was having a bad day we had Founding Mother Laurie inches away, along with indisputably the nicest group of hands on staff in the world, pitching in to make sure that everyone felt a level of support and comfort that would always make this meaningful engagement even more meaningful.
One of the things about TEF is that it’s not just a “vital” link in the chain of connection, friendships, purpose, and productivity for our talented interns---- but what’s even more extraordinary about this non-profit is that it provides family members with a 90-minute window to breathe, and if they choose, participate in the micro-business “business at hand.” Dare I say, for this exhausted “I need a break” mom----this magical and masterful work session of packaging and labeling organic jelly beans always gave me a nanosecond, or two, to mosey over to a cozy corner couch where I could close my eyes, ponder the meaning of life along with the menu for dinner that was an hour away, or if I was really brave----just sit there and do NOTHING.
Yup, you heard me. Nothing. Because boy oh boy--- I didn’t just need that time to regroup and catch my breath. I craved that time because it gave me the gift of renewal, respite and reflection. Did I feel guilty? Absolutely not. Because one of the best pieces of advice that Laurie gave me was that unless I was okay---code for rested & rejuvenated---than I would certainly not be able to do for Amanda what I needed to do.
The art of taking care of ourselves, mind, body & spirit, takes practice, practice, and more practice. But once you get the hang of it, you start to understand the trickle down effect. When we are feeling rested and ready to tackle unpredictable and often times, wack-a-doodle days that are fraught with challenging behaviors and moods---our precious adult sons and daughters will also start to feel less anxious, agitated, and discombobulated.
Granted. All of this may seem storybook perfect and unrealistic where some folks may question if the relationship between “me” and “we” is a reality, or just a hope and a prayer. Cynicism aside, and I am one of the biggest cynics on the planet, I have witnessed first-hand how TEF has benefited my life as much as it has Amanda’s life. Coincidence? I think not. But don’t take my word for it. Come and visit us in person (we sell our goodies at area craft fairs and events in the Hudson Valley) or online on Facebook, Instagram or www.theextendedfamily.solutions.
Once you see meaningful engagement up close and personal, and read first-person accounts of how “this little engine that could” has gone full steam ahead over this past year, changing the lives of everyone lucky enough to join this “family,”---- you too will be a believer. Cheers!
Grandma Mamiko was busy preparing a cup of cinnamon tea for herself and granddaughter, Rachel, on a recent Saturday afternoon, when a beautiful, bright sun was s-l-o-w-l-y f-a-l-l-i-n-g into its night time nest amidst a forest of bright orange and yellow leaves blanketing our country kitchen with autumnal splendor and warmth. Rachel, who we affectionately refer to as our “TEF sister,” was smiling ear to ear at us on a tiny little Apple 6 phone screen, thanks to that Face Time thing that every human being on the planet seems to use except this old school, rotary dial phone groupie who still remembers gushing over the premiere of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and her first white princess push button phone of her very own. Rachel was so excited to finally connect with her “sister from another mother,” Amanda, after our recent move to Ludlow, VT, and the two chatted nonstop as if a three month separation never existed. We were excited to get the ball rolling and let Rachel share why she loves TEF so much, and what this non-profit has done for her---and her loving, devoted, and TEF supporter extraordinaire, grandmama Mamiko.
Hilary: So Miss Rachel, share with us why The Extended Family has been so important in your life.
Rachel: Well, I get to do things I really like. Like putting labels on bags of jelly beans, and then selling the jelly beans. People love the jelly beans. They are really, really good.
Hilary: What do you think you like the best? Labeling or selling?
Rachel: Ummm, I think I like doing both. They are both fun. I have gotten really good at putting on the labels. I’m very careful when I do it so the labels are straight and in the right spot.
Hilary: So when you’re at The Freight House with all of your buddies, what “job” do you enjoy the most?
Rachel: I like weighing the jelly beans, and I like putting them in the bags. And I get to do this with Luke, Erica, Joey, and Laurie, and lots of people who make it more fun.
Hilary: Do you agree Mamiko, that all of this is a lot more fun having a great group of interns who Rachel can do this micro-business with?
Mamiko: For sure. It’s a very celebratory atmosphere when we go there. Everyone is very conscientious and very focused on doing their job. Everyone helps each other. It’s such a special and meaningful time for everyone.
Hilary: Did Rachel do other things before joining The Extended Family?
Mamiko: Yes, she has volunteered at the library for a long time, which she loves. Everyone has always been so nice to her there, and it’s something Rachel loves to do. There are very good people there who are very kind.
Hilary: So when you reconnected with Laurie, and discovered TEF and their efforts to create meaningful engagement for all of the Rachel’s, Luke’s, Sean’s, Amanda’s and Erica’s out there, what was your first reaction?
Mamiko: I was all in. I was over the moon when Laurie told me about this. I have known Laurie for a long time. Luke and Rachel went to school together. Laurie and I always wanted to work together. Once Laurie told me about this, I wanted to do as much as I could to help Laurie and Susan make this happen.
Hilary: So Rachel, do you want to do more things that are fun with The Extended Family?
Rachel: Yes. I am happy having a job to do because it makes me feel good. I love to work. And I’m a really hard worker.
Hilary: TEF is so lucky to have you Rachel!! Say hi to the gang!
Rachel: I will! Bye!!!!!
It wasn’t too long ago when intrepid intern and Extended Family member, Amanda Wolfson, was feeling enormous anxiety joining her TEF sisters and brothers at The Freight House to engage in their “sweetest beans ever” jelly bean micro-business. That day interns were weighing and packing these organic lemon, grapefruit, orange, cherry and grape bites into miniature containers of art, donned with colorful labels and lacy, lovely ribbons, placing each meticulously packaged “bag of yummy” into cardboard boxes for our sales team to sell at area stores and shopping centers. As usual, Founding Mom Laurie texted and chatted with Amanda days before, reassuring this tentative team member that ALL Amanda needed to do was “show up.” That’s it.
If she decided to come and just chill on the cozy corner couch--than that’s exactly what she would do. If she wanted to help her co-workers weigh some beans---awesome. If she wanted to sit at the table and tie a few ribbons or label a few bags--beautiful. At no time did Amanda ever feel that there were expectations or rules. All Amanda had to do was just “show up.” That’s it. And that’s exactly what she did.
And after showing up, she inched over to her buddy Rachel, donning gloves, and going “all in” with the weighing and bagging, giggling until both girls decided to seal the deal with a warm, “doesn’t get much better than this” hug. As staff and family members circled this triumphant team with shout out’s and “whoo hoo’s,” this Extended Family mom realized why this moment in time mattered so much to me---and most of all, to my daughter.
This non-profit was created to empower individuals and families “to manifest, maintain and be in full command of their environment” at all times, where self-expression and individual desires were more than just part of their mission statement. Individual desires and empowerment are the engine that has driven this non-profit, celebrating the collaborative and inspired creativity and “freedom to just be” mantra that has helped every member of this heart-centered tribe feel safe, supported, and smiling.
Smiles matter a lot here. This family wants their interns to garner pride, a sense of accomplishment, and invaluable life skills. But at the end of the day, what is MOST important is that each and every member of this family ALWAYS feels that “they are in control.” They get to decide what feels right, what doesn’t feel right, and feel empowered to make choices that feel right for them.
That’s it. Which brings us back to Amanda. After discovering the promise that was made to her in a series of texts and phone chats was true, and that just showing up was “good enough,” this former titan of tentativeness slowly but surely discovered that there really is a place where just being who you are is good enough. And for this mom, nothing could be sweeter.
Amanda was donning her riding pants and fancy boots this Saturday morning as she was getting ready for her early AM therapeutic horseback riding class at a nearby farm. The Disney Channel was humming in the background, as Amanda doesn’t like being in a room that’s “too quiet.” She likes the company of quiet noise, something that has comforted her since she was five years-old. After I saw her room go from light to dark, my 4’10 curly-haired equestrian emerged into the living room with a big Kool-aid smile, indicating that today would be a good day.
Not every day starts off like this, as any parent of a special need child or adult child will tell you. Amanda likes to wake up knowing that there is a schedule in place. She likes to know what she will be doing throughout the day, down to the hour and the minute. Routine is comforting for Amanda, giving her a sense of what to expect as morning turns to afternoon, and afternoon turns to night. I liken this routine to Linus’s blanket in the Peanuts cartoon, serving as a “lovey” or “security blanket” that calms fears and ameliorates anxieties. Even at 31 years old, Amanda needs this “security blanket,” and makes a huge difference in how she greets the day ahead of her. Knowing that today is riding day, where she not only sits tall in the saddle and “walks on” atop Shy, the Egyptian Arabian gentle giant with the patience of a saint—but she also has a “schedule” of what she will be doing when she gets home, something that is hugely comforting for this anxiety-prone young woman.
In that schedule was a few minutes chatting with me about why she likes The Extended Family, its Dream in Every Bean micro-business, and the individuals she has hung out with during that hour at The Freight House restaurant in Mahopac, NY every Monday afternoon.
Q. What did you think about being a part of The Extended Family micro-business, A Dream in Every Bean, the first time you participated in the class at The Freight House?
A. I didn’t know what to expect. And I wasn’t sure I would like it. But I love seeing Laurie, and I love seeing Luke, so I kinda knew that it would be okay. I wasn’t so sure about how I’d like putting the coffee beans in a bag and weighing it. It was confusing in the beginning. But once Laurie made up a song and you started dancing, I didn’t feel so confused.
Q. How has it been meeting new people through The Extended Family?
A. It’s been good. I knew Luke and I knew Rachel but I didn’t know Erica and Joey. I like that there’s new people there because most of the time I don’t get to meet new friends. It’s hard if you don’t go to a program or job to meet new people. I had so many friends at school. But I don’t see those friends anymore. I would try to see those friends but they were too busy. That made me feel lonely. And hurt my feelings.
Q. What’s your favorite part of being at The Freight House?
A. Seeing everyone. That makes me happy. Now we’re wearing aprons and bagging jelly beans which is a lot of fun. I don’t really eat jelly beans but I like the colors.
Q. If you could come up with another micro business with TEF, what would you like to do?
A. Something with singing and dancing. And maybe acting. I like doing plays and performing in front of people. I haven’t been able to find classes like this ever since I left WEC (Westchester Exceptional Children’s School). Maybe we can find someone who will do that with us. And I can help write the plays.
Q. So for the most part, TEF has been a nice experience for you?
A. Definitely. It’s fun. We laugh a lot. I like that.
~~~Hilary Schwartz Wolfson~~~
Hilary Schwartz Wolfson is Amanda’s mom & COA (Chief Operating Advocate), TEF Social Media Manager, Cheerful Blogger and more often than not, CPSPM (Cranky Past Seven PM)
In this journey obstacles are ever present. While our sons are comfortably settled in their own home what weighs heavily can no longer be ignored.
Bleak statistics hit us like a tsunami: 85% of Adults with Developmental Disabilities are unemployed. Those who are fortunate to be working often find themselves relegated to menial or uninspiring tasks.
For many—like Sean and Luke—traditional jobs are not viable. The options are limited: remain isolated at home or join an agency program hindered by state regulations.
Our sons want what we all do: a job with purpose and meaning, a social life and a home. Whenever our knees buckled from the weight of finding our own way, Sean and Luke propelled us forward. So too would be the case on the job front.
Our full focus is to create Meaningful Engagement in a supportive environment that centers around skill training for individual micro-businesses. Once the interns acquire necessary skills, they choose their desired task and business of their desire, developing a keen sense of ownership.
Above all, Meaningful Engagement is one part matching interests with tasks, two parts skill-training and problem solving, and three parts fun. To our delight the interns are more than rising to the occasion.
A Dream in Every Bean, our first micro-business is a coffee enterprise that purchases beans from direct trade Guatemalan Coffee Farmers. Our inspired interns designed the coffee labels, grind beans, weigh, package and pack bags in advance of purchase.
We still can’t see the whole staircase, but taking the first step enabled us to live the adage dreams do come true.
We invite you to visit our Meaningful Engagement Store at TheExtendedFamily.solutions.
Welcome to our Family.
The journey to fulfillment for young adults with special needs is long, winding, even endless. But it’s a little less harrowing, and the nights a little less lonely, if you’re willing to walk it with us.
‘And Reason said to her, “Silence, what do you fear? And she said, “I hear the sound of feet a thousand times…
The insistent rhythm of footsteps echoes the drumbeat that has escalated throughout the years. Sean and Luke’s search for a meaningful life reflects what we each want: a social life, a job with purpose and a home.
Anxiously seeking solutions, our sons’ footsteps reverberated in our ears as we knocked on doors and pleaded for support, one futile step after another. It was impossible to discern the trail marked by the young adults from those of their tormented parents. Until we declared enough. Enough of looking elsewhere for hope that consistently vanished in the ether of promise.
…….Ten thousands and thousands of thousands and they beat this way.’
Our sons regularly reminded us they were ready to live independent lives, the cadence of their refrain urged us to pave the way. They became our teachers who instilled the lesson we couldn’t ignore: if we didn’t do something then nothing of consequence would happen. Waiting for outside forces to intervene was a pipe-dream.
Our sons taught us solutions were within our grasp, we simply needed to reach. Riding on their shoulders we jumped without a safety net, our hearts beating with a mixture of fright and excitement. Luke and Sean’s unwavering trust catapulted us into the unknown, and we never looked back.
In spite of the excruciating amount of time it took to realize their wish, our patient sons never stopped believing in our ability to accomplish the task at hand, no matter how formidable. As always, our heroes were right. Their faith and resolute desire empowered us. Stepping in Sean and Luke’s extraordinary footprints created possibilities we could not have imagined.
…They are the feet of those that will follow you. ~ Lydia A. Prescott
Join us. Thanks to Luke and Sean we now know the way.
Any mom can tell you, we never quite surrender to deep slumber, wary of who might need us during the night. Extraordinary situations surrounding life with an exceptional child guarantees the REM sleep cycle is perpetually out of reach.
When my 25 year-old son was an infant, friends would ask if I yearned for a normal life. “Normal is highly overrated.” I’d snap back, desperately not wanting anyone to feel sorry for me. I still don’t.
I figure it out as we go, fiercely loving my son, hoping that life would not be so hard for him. In spite of the persistent challenges, setbacks and miles of torment, life with Luke is filled with joy, delicious giggles, and optimism.
My stars aligned when I met Susan, who, together with her son Sean, were living a parallel life. Terrified by the lack of options available to young adults for meaningful engagement, a social life and a home of their own, we set out to create the impossible: helping our sons see their dreams come true. That’s why we created The Extended Family, an enterprise that helps exceptional adults realize their dream of meaningful engagement and living in a home of their own.
Early on Susan’s husband quipped, “The Founding Fathers were responsible for creating America; you two are the Founding Mothers for our guys and many others.” When our knees buckle, we prop one another up with Founding Mother grit and determination to keep going, often through insurmountable odds. Today our sons are thriving in their own home and are on the verge of initiating social enterprises.
This is not solely about two sleepless moms; we like to think of ourselves as the back-up-band. The heart of this blog belongs to Luke and Sean, two guys who saved each other and in the process, are making the world a better place.
Laurie and Susan
Meet our new Social Media Manager, Hilary Schwartz Wolfson:
Writing Life. Happy Life. I am now the official Social Media Manager for The Extended Family (along with being on the Advisory Board) and am discovering that my talents, going all the way back to my days as a freelancer for The NY Times 15 plus years ago, are surprisingly (and happily) being appreciated by folks today. I cannot deny that I am at my happiest when I am writing, particularly about issues that are important to me, so stay tuned Extended Family supporters for some lively interviews from our participants and intermittent Q & A's about our tribe and the three women (Laurie, Susan & Lisa) who made this all a reality!!
When Hilary isn’t blogging and acting as social media advisor for TEF you can find her playing with Frankie and Johnny, her two favorite goat buddies.🐐🐐