Published: Thursday, June 25, 2009
By DANA SMITH, Staff Writer
NASHUA – Around every holiday this school year, Becky Mullis and the rest of the residents at Arel Manor were visited by students offering them some sort of homemade treasure – handcrafted baskets filled with treats on Easter, homemade baked goods for Thanksgiving – just simply something to brighten up their holiday season.
In appreciation, the residents of Arel Manor held a barbecue June 11 for the students of Nashua High School South’s Habits for Living class, a course that helps students with autism and other disabilities connect to their community.
“It is absolutely marvelous,” said Mullis, the head of the Arel Manor Association. “They made whatever they give us all their own. And that means a lot more, because it came from the heart. They have certainly done a lot for us.”
The goal of the Habits for Living class is to get the students out into the community. Besides their visits with Arel Manor’s senior residents, the students also took trips to City Hall and the library and learned how to use the public transportation system.
“There is no hidden agenda or any mean spirit in them,” said Mark Tenney, the Habits for Living class instructor. “We are just trying to lead them to the path of independence. Every day is a challenge, but every day there is a little bit of progress.”
But it’s not just the students who are learning from this experience.
“They have given more to me than I have ever given to them,” said Pat Bradford, a paraprofessional who resides at Arel Manor and works at Nashua South with the Habits for Living class. “Each and every one of them is a gift. It’s the best job in the whole world. I wouldn’t dream of anything else.”
The Habits for Living class also has one graduate this year, Marquis Messina.
“I can’t wait to graduate,” Messina said. “I am looking forward to the graduation party at my house.”
After graduation, Messina will be working at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the pilot Project SEARCH program, where she will be caring for occupants and providing them with services.
But before Messina heads off for St. Joseph, she and her classmates had one last trick up their sleeves. The students made a quilt with a picture of a flower on the front to be hung in Arel Manor that was presented to the residents at the barbeque.
“I think it is wonderful that they get these kids to do this for the senior establishment,” said Bertha Eaves, an Arel Manor resident.
And the pay-it-forward chain that these students have started seems to have found its way back to the beginning.
“We’ve had really great support from the parents and the school,” Tenney said. “Whole classrooms have adopted our kids and come down during whole blocks of the day to help them. That kind of acceptance is marvelous and exactly what you would hope for.”
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