With the Center's Help, My Son Gained His Independence

Matthew Allan CalauttiHe's funny. He's cute. He's smart. He's a pretty good dresser. He is a stage actor and has been on TV many times. He gives speeches—he even gave one to the Governor of New York State. He meets regularly with legislators. He has traveled to several countries. He loves swimming, boating, movies, cruising, golf, bowling and archery. He is well read and plays the piano and guitar. His dance moves are incredible, and he is loved by everyone at his job. He is kind, loving, and caring. So—who is he? Jimmy Fallon? No. Hugh Jackman? No. He is my son, Matthew Allan Calautti. He is 41 years old and has Down Syndrome!

Thanks to a wonderful family, great friends and the Center for Disability Services, Matthew is able to do all of the things listed above. That is why my late husband and I wanted to show our appreciation by giving a legacy gift to the Center. We never settled for anything but the best for Matthew, and the Center proved to us, right from the start, that they would provide the best for my family.

Matthew was born in 1976, in Castleton, New York. Like many parents of that time who had children with disabilities, we were told he would never walk or talk. Somedays, I wish the talking part were true! He can certainly test my patience with his constant questions and comments! We were told to put him in an institution. Thankfully, one of my closest friends was a Special Education teacher. She told me not to listen to any of this and introduced me to a pediatrician who was on the cutting edge at the time.

When Matthew was old enough to attend school, I was teaching in Chatham, Columbia County. I could enroll him in an educational program I believed to be ahead of the curve. The school's philosophy was to reverse mainstream their special education students…meaning Matthew spent 90 percent of his time in regular classes and 10 percent of his time in the Resource Room. This philosophy allowed Matthew to model the behavior of his peers, and he did very well in that environment. When Matt got older, we brought him back to Schodack Central Schools, our home district. He continued to receive an education that best suited his needs. He graduated from high school and was even presented with an award.

In the mid-1900s, my son and I attended a conference at Skidmore College where the topic was waiver services. Donna Lamkin, the program manager from the Center for Disability Services, was the speaker. She talked about Residential Habilitation Services, which was designed to assist a person in acquiring, retaining, and improving self-care, daily living, adaptive and other skills needed to reside successfully within the community. This was our first glimpse of this type of service, and I enrolled Matthew in the program. After just working with the Center a short time, I recognized that their programs were progressive and responsive to a family's needs, and this was an organization that was going to help Matthew live a valued life.

Matthew has utilized many of the Center for Disability Services' programs and services over the years because of the confidence they have inspired in us. He currently attends day habilitation through the Center's facility on New Karner Road in Albany and has added their WOW (day hab without walls) program; he receives service coordination through the Center; and he has used Center Health Services (specialists, therapy and behavioral) for many years as well.

In 1998, Matthew graduated from school, and we moved to Bolton Landing, New York. It was there that Matthew began his employment path using the skills he learned through the Center's Residential Habilitation program. He worked at the local branch of the Schodack Bank as a lobby greeter where his social skills were put to the test. He worked at The Sagamore, a 4-star resort on Lake George as a lobby assistant and greeter, where the skills of an employee are kept at high standards.

Matthew Allan Calautti at workAfter moving into one of the Center's residential homes in Albany, he has worked at Panera's on Wolf Road for the past nine years. The staff values Matthew, and he loves his job. Matthew is also part of the Self-Advocacy group for the Center and was recently featured in a promotional ad for the Center's Telethon in his Panera uniform saying, "The Center guided me step by step, and now I have my independence." Matthew contributes to the community and lives a fulfilled life.

We never considered going anywhere else, because the Center staff was always warm and welcoming. They met our needs, attempted to make progress where they could, moved us forward and looked to the future for Matthew. I lost my husband three years ago, and I know I won't be around for Matthew forever. The Center is my rock and my insurance that Matthew is going to be safe, secure and happy long after I am gone.

— Laureen Calautti