Club Involves Those with Disabilities in Community

Something in Macchirole’s invitation – friendly, undemanding – spurred Fleming. He unfolded his arms and joined the others at the truck. Within moments, Fleming was doing his own encouraging: “Oh-oh, more!” he called, pointing to the partially filled garden box.

Fleming, a slim 22-year-old with neatly cut sandy-brown hair, has cerebral palsy. He was a member of the Monarch Beach Club even before it officially opened in Kill Devil Hills in January.

Last year, Macchirole quit her job at the Dare County Department of Public Health to start a program for young adults with disabilities that would involve them in the community. The program was later adopted by Monarch, a statewide nonprofit that provides services and support for developmentally disabled children and adults.

The Beach Club focuses on giving participants the chance to experience the joys and challenges a full life offers. As long as there is enough funding and staff, anyone with developmental disabilities age 18 and older – except those who are violent or severely mentally ill – are welcome.

Members of the Beach Club, currently ranging in age from 21 to 38, ride horses, make treats for the animal shelter, go to the library, make dolls for sick children, clean yards for senior citizens, volunteer at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and participate in fundraising walks.

“We are very community-minded,” Macchirole said. “We do not want to be behind closed doors.”

Macchirole, 58, said that without a program like the Beach Club, which serves Dare and Currituck counties, young adults with developmental disabilities who no longer attend school could become homebound and isolated. The club has recently started working with local high schools to help students transition to the Beach Club.

Billy Marzano, a 21-year-old Southern Shores resident with autism who will soon graduate from First Flight High School, spent the day with the club working to set up the garden. At one point, he spontaneously decided to sing ” Welcome to My World.” Afterward, a beaming Marzano was encircled in an enthusiastic group hug.

Unabashedly affectionate with one another, most club members joked with Macchirole and laughed big and loud. Some members who preferred to were allowed to sit apart, but someone was always checking on them or gently encouraging them to participate.

To Joe Fleming’s parents, it’s been a promising success story for East Carolina Behavior al Health, the local management entity that last year replaced Albemarle Mental Health Service in the 10-county area in Northeastern North Carolina on a trial basis.

“We’ve seen a great difference in basically the attitude of getting young adults engaged in the community,” Ken Fleming of Rodanthe told the Dare County Board of Commissioners this month.

“We’ve also seen a great change in our son. He’s talking a lot more. He’s relaxed. He’s getting his groove.”

The board voted to dissolve its relationship with Albemarle and to enter into a contract with ECBH to manage mental health services. Monarch contracted to ECBH, and both entities have provided funds to the Beach Club.

Joe Fleming can walk, but he has difficulty writing, speaking and doing tasks requiring fine motor skills, his mother, Mary Ellen Fleming, said. He can’t hold a job.

Fleming said the family is relieved the Beach Club has allowed her son to be a productive member of the community, among the safety of peers. And to be happy.

“He is now,” she said. “He’ll tell you ‘They’re my friends.’ Everybody needs friends.”

Catherine Kozak, (252) 441-1711, cate.kozak@pilotonline.com

http://hamptonroads.com/2010/04/nc-club-involves-those-disabilities-community