By Melanie Williamson
In April 2017, Lucy Idol’s new division Next Direction went on their first outing to a Cavs game. Since then it has grown a great deal of momentum, reaching a continually larger audience as more people realize there is an answer to the problem of feeling isolated and separate from society; from having a lack of friends/peers in which to share their time with.
According to an update provided in the organization’s newsletter, Idol Chatter, “This division expands our outreach to capture the population with disabilities that wish to participate in events and activities as close to main stream society as possible during traditional social hours.” It goes on to say, “Next Direction answers the community’s call for further community integration, participating in events and activities that allow individuals to have experiences they otherwise would not have had, as well as building bonds to have positive relationships and the opportunity to make new friends.”
According to the program director Barbie Pignotti, Lucy Idol Director Tad Peck saw a need for a program that would give people over the age of 18 with diversified challenges and opportunity to go out socially in the evenings and on weekends. The non-profit group 100 Women who care about Lorain County made a financial donation, which was used to launch the program.
Barbie Pignotti is a registered nurse and the program coordinator for Next Direction. She has over 20 years of experience in nursing and shared that her wide range of experience has equipped her for this type of position. Pignotti explained that they started by asking the clients what kinds of social outings they wanted. Pignotti used that brainstorming list to create the initial calendar. As new ideas are added to the list, she is able to see how she can make the outing possible. For example, several participants have expressed a desire to go t the animal shelter, so she’s arranged an outing to an animal shelter, where they will learn about the animals and have lunch. So far, they have had 385 total participants from Lorain County and have been able to offer 58 opportunities.
Opportunities have included Cavs games, Indians’ games, Crushers’ games, beach parties, Third Thursday, Lorain County Fair, roller skating, swimming, boat trips, Drum Down the Sun, Wollybear Festival, Fish Festival, bowling, high school football games, concerts at Black River Landing, movies, different restaurants, and a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Pignotti went on to share that they support local businesses as much as possible during these outings, and have had a great outpouring of support from individuals and organizations. They have been able to work with the Lorain County Metroparks to offer adaptive kayaking classes; they have enjoyed three classes so far and have had the opportunity to kayak on the river. They plan a wide range of activities and functions that fit an equally wide range of interests and capabilities.
She also stated that they have had a lot of people volunteer for the program, but they are always open to more. She stated that those interested in volunteering, high school students needed community service hours, or students needing an internship can contact her to learn how they can get involved. They have been reaching out to Lorain County for people that may benefit from the program. She said that since Vermilion is split, they do also have participants that live in Erie County.
Pignotti stated that being involved in this program has been enriching and the benefits are obvious. “We see such personal growth in the clients. They have been given the opportunity to develop friendships and become more independent. They are being given opportunities many thought they would never have.”