Originally published by Paula Vogler on Wicked Local
The first time her daughter, Elizabeth, went to a sleepover, Jean Barrett of Westwood was overcome with emotion.
While sleepovers are a rite of passage for many children, for those like Elizabeth who have developmental disabilities, it is not always an option.
Through House of Possibilities (HOPe)—whose mission is to make a difference for children, adults and families living with developmental challenges—Elizabeth has not only attended sleepovers at HOPe but has made friends that she now plans to meet at the overnight gatherings, according to a HOPe press release.
“The program was giving my daughter a chance to go on a sleepover like her older siblings did,” Barrett said in the release. “She made pizza, watched a movie, had her nails done, stayed up late and was cared for by people who had her best interests at heart. The benefits were immeasurable, invaluable and life changing.”
What makes HOPe’s overnight respite (ONR) unique is that it is offered free to families, according to Westwood native and HOPe founder and president Paula Kavolius.
While the ONR program is now at full capacity, with 10 children sleeping over at a time, that wasn’t the case when HOPe first opened its doors and had to charge for the service.
“The ones that sometimes need it the most can’t always afford to get help,” said Kavolius.
Kavolius said ONR is offered 50 weekends each year. Starting this year, children could stay two nights if needed rather than just one.
“If someone is in crisis we’ll give them two nights,” said Kavolius. “If they just need a break we will give them one night so we can help more people. We have a wait list now.”
The years have not been without difficulties that include staffing in an industry with a high turnover rate, according to Kavolius. HOPe has 35 full and part-time employees.
“We’ve actually beaten the curve,” said Kavolius. “We have an 86 percent retention rate which is unheard of in this field.”
HOPe depends on private funding to operate its children’s programs.
“We don’t get any funding from the state, not a dime,” she said.
To that end, Kavolius said the biggest fundraiser done by HOPe, an annual gala, would be held this year on Thursday, June 23.
“We’ve become in some ways gala-dependent,” said Kavolius. “We need the gala to raise critically needed funds to sustain our mission of HOPe.”
The night will include a silent auction as well as dinner, a live auction and keynote address by Dr. Ronan Tynan, a medical doctor, Irish tenor recording artist and Paralympian.
At the time HOPe opened in 2009, Kavolius said her son Tim, now 20, was her inspiration because he is a special needs kid and she knew what families were dealing with in trying to integrate them into community and social activities.
For a fee, HOPe takes children on field trips through a program to places caregivers may not be able to, such as Southwick Zoo, the Cliff Walk in Newport, plays and ballgames, Frozen on Ice, and apple or pumpkin picking.
She said all children should have friends and be involved in community activities.
“Our children’s programs are the heart and soul of HOPe and the hallmark of HOPe,” said Kavolius. “We don’t discriminate. We take children with all kinds of developmental disabilities.”
HOPe Club offers teens and young adults 18 and older socializing activities two Friday evenings per month that include outings, art, music, and fitness programs.
Saturday Night Live Socials celebrate a different themed event where participants over the age of 15 socialize and have fun with their peers.
There are also school vacation week programs for children and day habilitation programs for developmentally disabled adults that offer among other things games, skill building, and recreational opportunities.
Over the last seven years, HOPe has helped children and families in over 70 towns. In 2015 alone, it provided 54,000 hours of service to almost 300 children and their families.
“Statistics are good, but if we make a difference in the life of one person, that’s what really matters to me,” said Kavolius.