October 12, 2020 | Greenwich Time

GREENWICH — When Danny Clarke joined Abilis — a Greenwich-based nonprofit that provides programs for hundreds of people with disabilities and their families — he hoped to find a supportive community.

His parents knew they would need services from Abilis as Clarke neared 21, when students with disabilities “age out” and lose services and supports from their school districts.

Friendraiser 101220

“Families are always looking for recreation and opportunities to get their children and their family involved, and Abilis was offering and providing extracurricular activities, like Band Jam, that Danny could participate in to make friends and have fun,” Amy Montimurro, president and CEO of Abilis, said during a phone interview with him and his mother, Bibi Clarke.

Over the years, Danny Clarke, now 26, has also participated in job skills training because people with disabilities often struggle to find employment. The job development has helped him inch toward finding his own apartment, his mother said. To give back, Danny Clarke is now serving as an ambassador for the upcoming 15th annual Walk/Run for Abilis. “Abilis will always be my home away from home,” he said. 

Through his role, Clarke will help Abilis raise critically needed funds to benefit its new initiatives and existing programs, such as the new Sibshops program, which supports the unique needs of siblings of people with disabilities. “It allows me to make a lot of friends and participate in a fun day in the community,” he said.

The 15th annual Walk/Run for Abilis “is a fundraiser, but also mostly, a friend-raiser for our community,” Montimurro said. The event usually draws hundreds of participants to Greenwich Point, But due to this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, families and friends must participate in smaller groups throughout the day to follow social distancing protocols. This year participants will walk 1 mile or run a 5K at some point on Sunday, Oct. 18. “We’re sad that we won’t be at Tod’s Point, but everyone is super-jazzed about the virtual walk and they’re sending videos in (through Abilis’ website) and it’s becoming as fun as we possibly can make it,” Montimurro said. “Although we will be physically apart, while we’re walking and running, our community members will definitely be very much together,” she said.

There’s one silver lining for the change: Dogs are not allowed at Greenwich Point, but since the event will take place in various locations this year, pets are now invited, she said. The walk/run event has become a hallmark celebration for the organization. It’s the largest annual fundraiser for Abilis and also serves as a community-building event, where families meet, form friendships and provide additional support for one another, Bibi Clarke said. The goal is to $140,000, and the organization was nearly at $105,000 with about a week to go.

Almost 70 years ago, Abilis started with only one group home, and now, it has almost 40, said Richard Franck, a board member who helped organize the organization’s first walk/run event. Over the years, Abilis has expanded its competitive employment, residential and other transition programs and now serves people with disabilities from birth through end-of-life, Franck said. It has a main focus on community integration and helping its clients lead full and meaningful lives, “just like anyone would want,” he said.

“We’ve changed with the time and become more participatory and part of the community, whereas in the 1950s and ’60s we weren’t so well integrated in the community,” Franck said. “But times have changed and attitudes have changed and that’s one of the reasons we’ve grown.” The growth of the organization has created an increased need for fundraising, he said. And the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a financial burden on Abilis.