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When George Reid-Perry joined the staff at SARAH, Inc., he found close-knit communities in both his job and along the shoreline. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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George Reid-Perry talks at a fast clip, one sentence tumbling into the next, yet his manner is full of warmth and sincerity. He’s confident but not off-putting. He’s in his early 30s and appears to be in his mid-20s; he’s been in his job for just a year, yet somehow has the ease and quiet authority of a long-timer. And as the enrichment services director at SARAH, Inc., based in Westbrook, George oversees a range of programs for adults with intellectual disabilities.
“I am responsible for overseeing our traditional day service programs,” he explains, “where our individuals are coming either from a family home or from a residential group home to our program on a daily basis and they receive their day supports here.”
Day supports come in a variety of services to help adults manage their lives on a daily basis. It might be help with grocery shopping, guidance on managing a budget, or basic cooking lessons. From mental-health counseling to figuring out what to do upon coming home from work, the term “day supports” encompasses a whole set of skills that many people take for granted.
And those day supports are available in a group setting at a SARAH, Inc., facility, or they’re available at home, in some cases on a one-on-one basis.
“One of the things we really focus on is getting people ready for each stage of their life, specifically looking at services and supports that they’ll need to be successful, whether it’s in their family home, their own home, living with friends or roommates,” George explains.
SARAH organizations are perhaps best-known for their employment programs, in which they partner with businesses and organizations to find a good fit for the adults they serve.
Some of the opportunities are volunteer positions or internships—“People can try those out for a period of time and then hopefully transition into successful employment in the community,” George says.
“That really can’t happen without the community,” he says. “We have smaller businesses that support our individuals in their ambition to live independently within the community.”
SARAH, Inc. works with people to determine what they’re ready for and what is available to them, and then helps with basic skills: “‘This is the time you need to be ready,’” George says of the coaching individuals receive. “‘When you’re ready, okay—let’s talk about the skills that you need in this particular part of your employment.’
“My staff will go out and provide them those services within their communities, their local communities,” he says. “People can have as little as a few hours of support up to 20 hours of support throughout the week, but it really depends on what you need.
“We support the individual wherever they need us, whether that’s financial, health, just kind of the day-to-day,” he continues. “We do a little bit of everything. It’s a full day for some people.”
George grew up in New Jersey, primarily in a town called Glen Ridge, about 20 to 30 minutes from New York City.
“I lived there until I went off to college in 2003: Western New England College—now University” in Springfield, Massachusetts, he says.
Graduating with a psychology degree, he initially found a part-time position with the Windsor Public Schools in an alternative educational program for high-school students “not doing as well as they could in the mainstream program.”
The program mainly took place between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, and before too long, George was looking for something more.
“My first real foray into the world of non-profit was through Community Health Resources [in Coventry], working within their group homes for at-risk youth,” he says. “These [were] kids who had been removed from their homes [and] were placed into the DCF [Department of Children and Families] system. I did that for four, four and half years, primarily with ages between five and 13.
“And then I decided I wanted to see what other options were out there,” he says.
A friend asked George if he’d ever heard of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), an international organization that advocates for adults and children with a wide range of disabilities. UCP has a local affiliate, UCP of Eastern Connecticut.
George thought, “I’ve been working with children for the last couple of years; let me see what it’s like to work with adults.
“So eventually I was hired by UCP of Eastern Connecticut and I worked in their adult in-home support [IHS] program,” he says. “That’s for adults who are living semi-independently within the community, receiving what are called drop-in supports throughout their day and throughout their week.”
George worked there for five years, managing the IHS program and providing services himself at times, as well.
“Often within these structured programs, you’re doing a little bit of both,” he explains. “My main job was oversight of the program, but...throughout the week, depending on the needs, I provided the actual direct care as well. And I like that. I like that style of program, because it allows you to get a really good feel for...the supports that the individuals need.
“I know what would make sense from an administrative point of view, but then you have to have to also marry that with what is the practical way of doing things,” he says.
The next few chapters of George’s life found him earning a master’s degree in public administration from Post University in Waterbury, working at Vista Life Innovations, and trying his hand in the for-profit world.
“The first roughly 10 years of my career had all been spent in non-profit and I felt...if I was ever going to make a transition, this was probably the time that it was kind of safe to do it,” he explained.
With that much experience working for non-profits, he reasoned, he should be able to find another job if he wasn’t happy working in the private sector.
And he wasn’t. Not entirely.
“For me, at the end of the day, it came down to: What do I really enjoy doing?,” George says. “Being able to have that personal connection, to seeing the results of what you’re doing. I didn’t necessarily get that same feel and love for what I was doing, so I decided it was time for me to go back into the non-profit world.”
Fortunately for George and for SARAH, Inc., there seemed to be a job waiting for him in Westbrook.
“It kind of all lined up at the correct time,” he says, laughing.
George and his partner live on the shoreline with their five-year-old daughter, who started kindergarten last month.
“The shoreline has very tight-knit communities and they’re great for raising families,” he says. “That is also the feeling you get here at this particular organization: that everyone has that common goal and that common mission. I think that’s what attracted me most to this organization at the beginning. Now, being here for just about a year, you really see that. And you want to be able to bring the community in to see the good work that we’re doing.”
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