A “Dream Come True” for LIVES Program Graduate
Andrew Sass is living his dream of independence with support from The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming.
The 2014 graduate of the LIVES Program at SUNY Geneseo recently signed the lease on an apartment that he shares in the heart of Geneseo, where he also works in his dream profession of child care.
"Andrew worked very hard to achieve his independence," says Mary Coniglio, Habilitation Manager for LIVES, a four-year college experience program for individuals with disabilities that stands for Learning Independence Vocational and Educational Skills. "He had two valued outcomes: he wanted to live on his own, and work with children. His entire team was behind him, and his determination was infectious."
Today, Andrew works as a Teacher's Assistant at Harmony Station Child Care on Millennium Drive. For 20 hours a week, he serves as part of a three-person team responsible for the care and happiness of up to 14 three- and four-year-old children.
At home, he shares a two-bedroom apartment on Haley Avenue with Evan Pirrello, who works at Wegmans through The Arc's Hilltop Industries program.
"Andrew loves living in his apartment and the feeling of accomplishment," says his mom, Joan Sass. "It is his dream come true. Now he says, ‘I'm like everybody else: I work, I'm in my own apartment, and I have friends and a girlfriend.' Life doesn't get better, and there is nothing more we could ask for him."
A native of Long Island, Andrew made the move to Upstate New York about five years ago when it became clear to his family that there was not a suitable college program for Andrew in their area.
"At first, I was scared to go off on my own," Andrew says. "But I wanted to go to college like my cousins."
Before becoming an apartment dweller, Andrew lived in The Arc operated Center Street IRA in Geneseo as he attended the LIVES Program. Andrew was one of 8 individuals who called Center Street home, and while he misses the camaraderie, he remains connected with his closest friends as part of an active social calendar.
"I miss some of my housemates, but we keep in touch," Andrew says. "I only live a short distance from them. I'm still in Geneseo."
Andrew's path to independence has included overcoming serious obstacles, often stemming from a pervasive speech disorder that is part of his disability.
"Our pediatrician told us once if he had been born years ago, he would have been institutionalized," Joan says. "Andrew did not speak until he was eight years old. But he never allowed not being understood to stand in his way. He will find any way possible to get his point across."
Andrew's current Arc support team includes Speech Pathologist Krystin Petzoldt, along with Service Coordinator Holly Mason, Social Worker Dan Gallagher, and Habilitation Specialist Patrick Miskell.
“Now that Andrew is living on his own, we are working on learning language associated with activities of daily living such as money management while continuing to improve his speech disorder,” Krystin says. “Some of those concepts have been challenging, so we have created some visual supports that Andrew’s Community Hab staff use with him.”
For shopping, Krystin has fashioned Andrew's grocery list like a map of Wegmans, with visual cues for items that Andrew typically purchases positioned appropriately throughout the floorplan.
Andrew has proven to be a quick study. Not only does he shop independently, he also takes on more demanding endeavors like travel. Andrew has gone as far as Israel with other Jewish young adults through Birthright. And he routinely travels back to Long Island via bus or plane for holidays and other special occasions.
"Staff from (my previous home on) Center Street would go though it with me at first, but now I can follow those same steps on my own," Andrew says.
Having achieved success on his own terms, the humble and soft-spoken Andrew has become an inspiration for those closest to him.
"Andrew's youngest sister, Sarah, is turning 17 and awaiting college acceptances," Joan says. "She always says, 'If Andrew can face this and deal, so can I!'"