August 31, 2023 (SUDBURY, Massachusetts) – SMILE Mass is on a mission to create positive change in the lives of people with severe disabilities by creating their proposed “Community within a Community.” The “Community within a Community” is the next phase in the continued evolution of SMILE Mass’ widely successful program called Club SMILE Mass.
“The state estimates that there are over 10,000 families in Massachusetts without the services they need, which is part of a national crisis,” stressed Lotte Diomede, Founder and President of SMILE Mass. “SMILE Mass is working diligently to provide immediate relief to these families. Through our fastest-growing program to date, Club SMILE Mass, we provide much-needed daily activities focusing on movement, and the results have been life-changing for many clients with severe disabilities and their families.”
It is widely believed that movement stimulates the brain’s frontal lobe, often resulting in physical, mental, and social improvements in people with disabilities. The Club SMILE Mass program is a scheduled program that includes gym and swim sessions, adaptive bicycling, job, and social skills training, and more. “The program provides our clients with fun activities they can utilize in everyday life,” explained Diomede. “Club SMILE Mass is unique as it not only gives those with the most complex disabilities a place to belong but also strives to continually increase skills not only in our gym but also at home with adaptive equipment.”
Reporter Jason Laughlin echoed Lotte’s sentiments in an August 8 article in the Boston Globe titled, Thousands with complicated disabilities languish as Massachusetts struggles with staff shortages at care programs. Laughlin shed light on the current crisis facing people with disabilities and their families, a problem resulting from the closure of many day habilitation programs due to staffing shortages and low wages.
In the article, Laughlin states that more than 2,000 individuals, most with complex medical or behavioral needs, have been without day habilitation programs since the pandemic began. The displaced individuals are on waiting lists while the state agencies devise a reasonable solution to the staffing shortage. The shortage of qualified staffers existed before the pandemic and has become consistently more problematic. As Club SMILE Mass continues to grow, Diomede said, “It is important to bring the program in-house, and SMILE Mass is fundraising to build a “Community within a Community.” The proposed facility, affectionately known as “A Place Like No Other,” will be located on a 31-acre parcel of land bordering the towns of Framingham, Sudbury, and Marlborough and will include an 8,000 square foot building, which will serve as a Club House for the program. The facility will consist of a gym, pool, kitchen to teach life skills, an adaptive tree house, and dozens of acres of adaptive trails that clients can enjoy as they explore the rural landscape surrounding the grounds.
“We are embarking on our most significant undertaking,” explained Diomede. “Our Community within a Community provides a solution for those that believe in equity and equality for the disabled will help resolve a labor shortage in the healthcare industry brought on by the pandemic.”
“SMILE Mass is hyper-focused on the 12.2 percent of the disabled population considered severely disabled and medically complex. Even before Covid, our number one goal was to address the lack of services available to the most disabled members in our community,” continued Diomede, whose 22-year-old son Nicholas was born prematurely with hydrocephalus, a fluid buildup on his brain. “We created Club SMILE Mass for people like Nicholas as existing programs have become scarce or are no longer available due to the lack of staffing.”
Diomede supports the self-directed program approach but feels the budget needs proper allocation. The legislature created The Real Lives Bill to give choice and control of support to disabled individuals and their family members and caregivers. However, due to the lack of staffing, families of people with disabilities are not being provided with enough programming. As a result, this puts tremendous strain on families and their disabled family members. Club SMILE Mass delivers a platform which addresses the stress of raising a family member with a severe disability.”
Diomede shared a success story about a current client we will refer to as Sophia, to exemplify the success of the Club SMILE Mass program.
“Before Sophia received the proper program to support her mental and physical disabilities, her mother reported, she would be sleeping during the day, have no interest in her surroundings or other peers, and her physical abilities were declining to the point of her barely being able to walk to the bathroom without full support. Her baseline heart rate was high, and her body fat percentage was borderline obese. Sophia desperately needed a meaningful, inclusive program that could stimulate both the mind and the body.
Sophia joined Club SMILE Mass, and after just 14 months of an individually adaptive gym, swimming, biking, stimulating music therapy, and so much more, Sophia has lost over 22 pounds, while her baseline heart rate is now standard. Sophia no longer naps in the daytime unless she has worked extremely hard at the gym; she is making eye contact and can now walk over 20 feet independently using only her walker.
What Sophia has accomplished in such a short time is fantastic. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have a full life. Ten years ago, Sophia had a medical setback that made her barely mobile. Still, with the individual attention and movement incorporated into the SMILE Mass program, Sophia has gained skills she has experienced in the past ten years. The increased skills reaffirm that everyone can succeed when the right program and opportunities are available, regardless of disability.
The SMILE in SMILE Mass stands for Small Miracles In Life Exist, and Sophia is just one of many we’ve witnessed as a result of Club SMILE Mass.
Diomede encourages all to become involved with SMILE Mass by donating at their website, www.smilemass.org. “We have donation opportunities for any level, whether purchasing a legacy brick for our Community within a Community, joining our monthly coffee club, becoming a corporate sponsor or an annual donor. We need the help of a village to continue making a difference in the lives of the people we serve.
About SMILE Mass
Small Miracles in Life Exist (SMILE Mass) is a 501 C3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping families raising children or adults with disabilities enjoy happy, healthy memories through vacation and recreation experiences. For more information, visit www.smilemass.org
Lotte Diomede- President-Founder email@example.com 617-967-7755
Susan Brown-Vice President- Co-Founder firstname.lastname@example.org 978-460-7410
Todd Civin- Director of Communications email@example.com 978-502-1453