Linda Toscano: Creating a Place for Gavin & Friends
In a beautiful Boston Street building beside the Guilford Green, Linda Toscano is seeing a dream take shape in the form of Gavin & Friends.
Gavin & Friends will be a day program operated by SARAH Tuxis for adults with disabilities like Linda’s son, Gavin Toscano-Popick, who is 19.
Gavin, who lives with autism and faces intellectual and physical challenges, graduated from Guilford High School (GHS) with the Class of 2023. This fall, he’s entering the transition program, Transition Academy, through age 22. Gavin has a younger sister, Laila Toscano-Popick, 16, who is entering her junior year at GHS and is involved with its Unified Sports program.
As Gavin approached adulthood, Linda’s concern for his future turned into action as she sought a future home that would always provide for him in the life he loves as a Guilford resident.
“When I became a realtor in 2009, I started keeping my eye out for a property that was on the green, somewhere where he could walk around and be safe in the community where he’s been since he was little, where police and people know him,” says Linda, now a top producer with Page Taft Compass in Guilford.
In addition, Linda was on the lookout for day services in Guilford such as those provided in other communities by SARAH Tuxis.
“I’ve been trying to bring things to the community that he needs and other individuals need, as well,” says Linda.
About two years ago, Linda learned of two neighboring properties available on Boston Street. Together with Gavin’s dad, Kurt Popick, Linda secured ownership of 69 Boston Street and 71 Boston Street in January 2022.
The house at 71 Boston Street is set to one day become a residential home with assisted care for Gavin and two other participants. In the meantime, thanks to the vision, determination, remarkable energy, and perseverance of this single mom, the property right next door, formerly April Rose Designs, is well on its way to opening soon as the first Guilford SARAH Tuxis adult day program, Gavin & Friends.
Linda teamed up with SARAH Tuxis to become the program’s service provider.
“We decided to collaborate on this after I went with them to see their program in Westbrook, SARAH Tuxis Harbor, and then I took them to see the building at 69 Boston Street. We just said, ‘Let’s make this happen,’” says Linda.
Linda moved forward to receive required town approvals for the new use, along with plans for renovations, and then work began at the site. As with many older buildings, the initial work led to several discoveries that resulted in more work and cost overruns.
“Once we opened up the walls for the electrical, we found we basically had to gut the entire building and do structural support. We also converted it from oil to natural gas, installed all the duct-work for central air, new insulation, vaulted ceilings, new floors, all new windows. Basically, all new everything,” says Linda. “It’s going to be an ADA-compliant, super-efficient, and beautiful space.”
The first fundraising event for Gavin & Friends was held in December 2022 at Kurt’s Guilford restaurant, Prime on Whitfield. Linda also feels very grateful for Page Taft Compass for the continuing support it shows to the project.
Linda has also secured some sponsoring organizations that have come on board to assist in these efforts. However, continuing monetary support for the project is needed and welcomed at the Gavin & Friends donate button online on the SARAH Tuxis Gavin & Friends page (sarahfoundation.org/gavinandfriends).
The goal of the Gavin & Friends day program is to accommodate between 15 to 17 participants on varying schedules. There, with assistance from SARAH staff, they will continue to develop their life skills and abilities and be involved as community members and volunteers.
“They’re going to have everything they need,” says Linda. “Everything is ADA-compliant and wheelchair accessible. The main floor has a full kitchen, a media room with state-of-the-art smart computers, gaming, and things for people who like tech. There’s going to be a music room, a sensory room,” along with other specialized areas.
The main floor also includes a conference room and small office space for SARAH Tuxis staff. Upstairs, a small, ADA-compliant respite apartment will allow SARAH Tuxis to assist an individual in cases where a family requires overnight care and assistance for their loved one due to an emergency event.
“Gavin & Friends is going to be a smaller version of what’s at the Harbor, but the difference is this location allows these individuals, with supervision from the SARAH staff, to be around in the community. There’s the library, there’s the green, and there are the businesses,” says Linda. “There’s going to be so many opportunities for vocational training and working with businesses, whether it’s an hour or a couple of hours a day. It’s going to be a very optimal location for these individuals.”
With the renovation nearly complete, the hope is to have SARAH Tuxis ready to invite participants to begin programming at the site in late fall of this year, says Linda.
As for the extraordinary effort this mom has put in to help both her son and others, Linda says it’s something she took on because she felt she could make it happen.
“I feel like it’s going to be so great for so many people. This evolved from me just wanting to make sure Gavin would have place where he could forever stay and not be moved around,” says Linda. “I’m not ready for him to move out of my house just yet!”
Linda says that her experiences as a mom, and as a mom to a child with disabilities, have changed her life.
“I really feel like I found my life’s mission with this project, and I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have my son,” says Linda. “He has made me a totally different person for the better.”