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Mar 19, 2019 4:07 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East End Natives Create Special Needs East End Network To Offer Services For Developmentally Disabled Adults

Collier Lee, front, and Frank DeMarteliere package the blondies for delivery. COURTESY SHIRLEY RUCH
Mar 21, 2019 1:57 PM

Several East End organizations devoted to providing services to the area’s developmentally disabled adults have joined forces to create the Special Needs East End Network.

Paul Rogers, whose daughter Phoebe was diagnosed with Down syndrome, co-founded SEEN in 2018 with help from Kim Covell, president of The Flying Point Foundation for Autism and an assistant editor at the Press News Group. Their mission is to build community partners throughout the East End in order to provide social, recreational, educational, housing and employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities who have aged out of their educational program.

The State Education Department requires schools to offer educational programs for individuals with developmental disabilities up until the age of 21. After that, there are very few opportunities for those individuals.

“Adults with developmental disabilities do not have many opportunities to interact with each other—to be treated in a way that is totally accepting of who they are without consideration of any disability that they might have,” Mr. Rogers said.

The organization’s goal is to offer the same opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities as afforded the general population. Since its inception, SEEN has already garnered the support of, and built partnerships with, three additional East End organizations, including the South Fork Bakery, East End Special Players and L’Arche Long Island.

Shirley Ruch founded the South Fork Bakery, which operates out of Scoville Hall in Amagansett, in May 2016. The bakery provides employment opportunities for developmentally disabled adults, who earn minimum wage making chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, gingersnap and sugar cookies.

“It really came out of me witnessing parents frustrated with their children graduating high school at 21 and not having opportunities for employment,” she said, noting that her business now has 16 part-time employees. “People are very isolated when they get out of high school.”

Starting in May, Ms. Ruch’s hardworking employees bake Monday through Wednesday, deliver cookies and blondies Thursday and Friday, and sell their creations at local farmers markets, festivals and fairs on the weekends during the spring and summer months.

“This really gives them the opportunity to be integrated into the community, because they are encouraged to sell and communicate with the general public,” Ms. Ruch said.

She explained that the individuals employed at the bakery build upon their social, cognative, and communication skills. “It’s very motivating,” she said.

Individuals with developmental disabilities have also turned to the East End Special Players, a theater group that serves over 40 adults. In fact, every Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Phoebe Rogers attends rehearsal at the Bridgehampton Community Center on Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

Mr. Rogers, who serves as the organization’s president, said that Phoebe, 33, joined the theater production group at the age of 14, noting that she has made great strides in improving her social skills. Additionally, he said that the East End Special Players is the source of friendships.

Jacqui Leader, who for the past 25 years has served as the nonprofit’s artistic director, said that the actors and actresses are currently preparing to perform a musical of their own creation, called Whimsey World.

Ms. Leader described the play as a talk show, where each actor and actress talks about pursuing their dreams. “It really empowers them,” she said. “They have a lot to say.

“Everyone is very supportive of each other,” she continued. “We’ve managed to create a family and safe place for them to work out their feelings.”

In a spinoff of the East End Special Players, known as the Explorers Program, people with learning disabilities are taught how to prepare a healthy and nutritious plant-based meal from scratch.

Susan Blacklocke, a manager at Provisions Natural Food Market and Cafe in Sag Harbor, has been teaching the class since January 2014, when she arrived at the First Presbyterian Church in Southampton with an armful of microgreens and sweet potatoes.

“It sprouted from there,” she said, adding that the program has even expanded to the individuals taking a field trip to local farms and picking the veggies for the meal.

The program is offered every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Main Street church.

Mr. Rogers said the next step for SEEN is to secure a space to be designated as an activity center, as well as work with L’Arche Long Island—a newly formed organization dedicated to providing residential opportunities for developmentally disabled adults—to create housing opportunities for individuals who are interested.

Most recently, Ms. Covell and Mr. Rogers have expressed interest in transforming the former Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce building on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays into the activity center.

“Kim and her foundation have made it a goal to find a place where people with disabilities can get together for socialization, exercise, creative opportunities, continued education, and employment.

In fact, one of the goals is to find a location that can accommodate a commercial kitchen to house the South Fork Bakery, Mr. Rogers said.

The former chamber building is currently the only site on the co-founders’ radar, however, the group is currently working with Southampton Town officials to remove the restrictions put in place on the property.

“We hope that the town would be supportive of this,” Mr. Rogers said. “This is a townwide issue. Everyone knows someone who has a disability, and I think most people recognize that their needs aren’t being met.”

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Valuable, heart-warming initiatives by some of the community's top leaders. Gives the disabled a fighting chance. Much success!
By AndreaGurvitz (5), on Mar 21, 19 1:43 PM
the south fork bakery has delicious baked goods...buy the cookies all the time...a wonderful environment for our young adults...thank you for all your hard work and love.
By native68 (20), southampton on Mar 21, 19 2:53 PM
This program is beyond beautiful in so many ways. Paul Rogers an Kim Covell Motz are a blessing to the community.
By toes in the water (881), southampton on Mar 21, 19 5:28 PM
Great job, Paul Rogers is a good man
By Fred s (3026), Southampton on Mar 22, 19 9:02 AM
These initiatives are a MUST! Great job! Praying for a suitable space to be found. We need to help ALL children and adults with disabilities on the East End!
By GRICE (4), WaterMill on Mar 22, 19 12:04 PM
These initiatives are a MUST! Great job! Praying for a suitable space to be found. We need to help ALL children and adults with disabilities on the East End!
By GRICE (4), WaterMill on Mar 22, 19 12:04 PM
How does one contact SEEN to donate or volunteer? I’m not finding anything online . Ty
By toes in the water (881), southampton on Mar 24, 19 7:01 AM
The Roger's Family....What a Wonderful Family. I Love Phoebe, I worked with Pheobe in 2007-9 at Southampton High School. She had great skills. She Loved the Day Care Center. Phoebe was great with children.. ..What Mr. Rogers has initiated for disabled proves what caring people They really are. .
By rozzi1 (1), Southampton on Mar 28, 19 2:59 PM
Hot Tubs,SALE, Southampton Village, SouthamptonFest weekend