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Article Published April 10, 2019
Helen Bosch: Affecting Positive, Direct Change
Margaret McNellis, Associate Editor

Helen Bosch of Madison always wanted to pour her energy into something that could affect change and help people in a direct way, and for 28 years, she’s done just that as the chief executive officer of VISTA Life Innovations.

The organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, and chose the theme of metamorphosis because of the changes it’s making to continue to integrate individuals with disabilities into the shoreline community.

VISTA currently serves about 200 young adults residentially, and affects about 300 individuals along the shoreline. There are about 150 staff members.

But 28 years ago, when Helen joined the organization, it was much smaller.

With about 10 members and 4 staff members, VISTA was, in keeping with the metamorphosis theme, a larva.

“I was working for the state,” Helen says, “and I saw that VISTA needed support and help…so I came over to lead VISTA.”

With Helen’s leadership and diligent, caring work by the growing staff, VISTA progressed from its earliest stages of growth to a caterpillar, and now it’s spun a silken cocoon, and with its 30th year, will transform into a butterfly, into maturity, with plans to improve and grow.

Aesthetically, shoreline residents might notice some changes to VISTA’s residential location in Westbrook.

“We’re in the middle of renovation,” Helen says.

The dormitory is undergoing a $1.5 million improvement.

“It’s going to be really nice when it’s done,” she says.

Renovations, due to be completed in May, involved cutting the building in half, so VISTA erects a tent in nice weather to restore some of the social space.

“Last summer the entire kitchen was closed down,” Helen said. “Everyone seemed to survive in the end.”

The kitchen in the Westbrook facility serves three meals a day.

These changes only scratch the surface. The real drive for growth comes from the community.

“[Members] come from all over the country,” Helen says. “They come here to live their adult lives so they can be independent, have friends, do the things any adult does.”

VISTA’s goal is to support its members throughout the course of their adult lives. This means the organization has to grow with its oldest members as they continue to experience the challenges of midlife and late adulthood.

“Our goal is to be [our members’] partner and support system for their lives,” Helen says. “In a good way, this requires that we be mindful of what’s next for them.

“We want them to be able to age in place,” she says. “We’re going to have to look at a series of elder services and coordinate with elder services already out there.”

Helen sees VISTA’s role as both a resource to educate students and members, enabling them to live in the community—and to have the community understand and include VISTA members.

“We do a lot of activities [such as] paint nights and performances to help the community become aware of who we are and our membership,” Helen says.

Sometimes those events include fundraising, too. The Starlight Benefit, on Saturday, April 27 at 6 p.m. at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook, features live and silent auctions, as well as live entertainment, and raises funds for VISTA.

“It raises money and connects us with the community,” Helen says. “Through shared experiences, the minute you start to get to know someone, they’re not the person with the disability—they’re a person.”

Prior to joining VISTA, Helen worked in an office setting where a mother came in with her adult son who was on the autism spectrum. The mother sought opportunities and guidance for him.

“I wound up having this great relationship with this young man,” Helen says, “and at that time I said, ‘This is the type of person I would like to work with.’”

At the time, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for individuals like that young man. They tended to fall through the cracks because even though they’re bright and talented, traditional higher education is not often the right path.

“They really need an adult life like we all do,” Helen says. “That’s what VISTA does. What I love is working with adults who have neurological impairment.”

Helen has a master’s degree in counseling and post-master’s work in psychiatric rehabilitation. This combination of education and professional experience has helped her lead VISTA for most of her career thus far.

When she’s not focused on VISTA, Helen likes to stay active.

“I like to hike, bike, run,” she says. “I like to be outdoors, to exercise…I love the beach.”

One of her favorite recreational pastimes is reading at the Surf Club.

“I like to read memoirs,” says Helen. “I like things where you’re experiencing through the eyes of [someone else] in a real life story.”