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Advocates, a local human services agency, recently announced the recipients of grants from its Fred Gaspari fund, which issues grants of up to $500 to support the families of people with disabilities.
Advocates, which was founded in the 1970s, supports people with disabilities and families in central and eastern Massachusetts.
“It’s exciting to get the grant. Every little bit helps,” said Sif Ferranti, who applied for a grant for her autistic son to create a small kitchenette-like space with a refrigerator and food storage. It will be a separate preparation area that qualifies him both as his own household for SNAP benefits and to give him some independence.
“Even though he’s living at home, we could give him that feeling of his own space,” Ferranti said. “The small grant will actually help him with some small independent skills, and whenever you start with a teeny-tiny thing, you can always build on it.”
Jeff Keilson, a senior vice president at Advocates, said it had always been a big part of his work to look into new initiatives to support families and people with disabilities — especially family caregivers.
“It’s critical to what can we do as a nonprofit agency, as government, as a community to really provide those supports to family caregivers that help them provide the support to their loved ones,” he said. “One of my personal priorities has been, what can we do to lessen that stress?”
Normally, the fund gives out grants around the winter holidays, Keilson said.
“This year, we decided to do a second round,” he said. “We had some additional donations, and we just wanted to try to be even more supportive of families because of COVID.”
For the Pitman family of Marlborough, this money means being able to hire a therapeutic music teacher. Sai Pitman, 19, is legally blind and autistic, but not being able to read sheet music hasn’t slowed him down. He was adopted when he was just a week old by Kathy Pitman and her husband, and music has always been a big part of Sai's life and education.
A chance to pursue music
“The father wanted to make sure that he would be introduced to music,” Kathy Pitman said. “My son really has a gift for music. He just picks up instruments and he can play them. He hasn’t had any formal training and he has perfect pitch.”
There are some things that Kathy Pitman is hoping a music professional can help with, too. That includes more cordless options for when Sai wants to play with other people, so he can set up his equipment independently and not worry about tripping over cables.
Pitman said despite Sai's advanced aptitude, he needs an individual approach and someone who understands how to work with people with special needs — a combination of requirements that can get expensive.
“If we hadn’t gotten the grant, we wouldn’t be able to pursue this,” she said. “His career is going to involve music in some way, we’re just not sure what, whether it’s going to be sound effects, recording, playing music, DJ, we’re not sure. But music is definitely going to be in his future. This will give him a chance to get up to speed.”
Keilson stressed that every little bit helps families in need.
“Every $5 donation really helps tremendously,” Keilson said. “You can think of all the small things that make our life a higher quality, and a family is going to really make a small amount of money go a long way.”