By: Charlie Tortorella
In its founding in 1951, Abilis, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization headquartered in Greenwich, CT, was created to give equal educational opportunity to an often overlooked community: those with developmental disabilities. Over the past seven decades, Abilis has solidified its mark by creating wonderful opportunities for those affected by disabilities through education, housing, activities, and much more.
At GIFF, our goal has always been to bridge the worlds of film and philanthropy. By partnering with Abilis on community-wide programs, we have continued the pursuit of that goal. In 2023, GIFF donated $50,000 of the proceeds from our Inspiration Talk & Award Ceremony with Academy Award-winning Actor Brendan Fraser. In 2021, we supported Abilis with a $20,000 Community Impact Award. We know that Abilis is doing something invaluable for the community and are thrilled to have been able to provide much-needed support to the organization.
Recently, we met with Abilis CEO/Executive Director Amy Montimurro at the Café inside Greenwich Library, one of the many Abilis partners in the area, for a Q&A.
What is Abilis’s major goal as an organization?
In short, to ensure that people with disabilities are able to live full and meaningful lives. Abilis supports the families and parents for newly diagnosed children to meet milestones, and provide friendship, fun, jobs, comfortable living, and integration to the community.
What sorts of services does Abilis offer for its beneficiaries?
The services are vastly different, all depending on the person that the services are for. For children, diagnoses and intensive care are provided, along with physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy as needed. Abilis is one of only 11 Autism designated service providers in Connecticut who provide both diagnosis and intensive supports. Families are also provided with social services. Age specific services are also provided, such as adult continued education. There are options for all age ranges. There are also 66 residential locations, some designed to meet specific needs for different amounts of required support.
Has Abilis collaborated with any other organizations with similar goals?
Abilis has done work with the developmental services for education to ensure the best care possible. There have been numerous partnerships in the area with businesses, food stands, employers, and civic organizations. A great example of this would be the Concession stand on Island Beach, which is part of our partnership with the Town of Greenwich. Abilis hires youth from the area and each one is partnered with a person with a disability. They take the ferry out together and the mentor teaches skills needed to run a concession stand, from register running to cooking.
How has the $50,000 donation from GIFF been allocated within Abilis? How was the $20,000 Community Impact Award that Abilis received from GIFF in 2021 used?
While specific allocation may be tough to recall, Abilis uses every penny of every donation to be certain that the services provided are the best they can be. Without outside donations, the budget Abilis would work on would be nowhere near enough for all that needs to be done. Every cent is crucial. The money is used to open new concessions and opportunities, such as the stand at the Darien YMCA, Darien Library, Island beach, and the Café at Greenwich Library. The goal is to foster a community based training platform, and without the extra money for donation, there simply wouldn’t be enough space to have all the staff and ability to work that there is.
Do you have any big plans in store for the future of Abilis?
Yes! 2 years ago, Reach Supported Living was launched. CT is one of the only states that is IQ defined, meaning the state only provides benefits for those with an IQ below 70. Abilis knows that there are plenty that still need support but do not fit that description, so RSL was launched to provide affordable housing to those that are a “gap in the system.” We built two 6-apartment structures in Darien, and there are plans to do the same in Westport very soon.
What are some of the biggest challenges that Abilis faces?
Reimbursement rates from the state are not enough. Oftentimes there are challenges raising funding for the staff needs. To attract staff to work with the “most vulnerable population” with less than ideal reimbursement rates is not easy. Especially when competing with places like Home Depot. The state funding that Abilis receives is $17.25 and in order to recruit qualified staff, we need more funding.
Amy, you’ve been at Abilis for 27 years. What inspired you to first begin working here? What are some of your favorite memories from working with Abilis?
I was lucky enough to know this was what I wanted to do from an early age. I worked with the Special Olympics at 16. People with disabilities did not receive the opportunities that they deserved, or anything near they do now. To be able to see them integrated and live true, full lives is special as is watching the progression of the organization, going from 7 group homes at my start to 66 locations now. Abilis is also just creative with our strategies. We are flexible, making decisions and changes on the fly to maximize benefit.
How can people get involved with Abilis?
Abilis has a super well-organized and strongly run youth board that teens can get involved in to fundraise. Other than that, the possibilities are endless. You can volunteer based on your own skills or interests. There have been musicians, bakers, arts and crafts people, and more that all have incredibly valuable roles in creating the community. There is even a community garden that was created by one of the volunteers. The possibilities are endless. It is a very rewarding experience, and even for those who may be unsure, it keeps kids coming back every single time.
Finally, since we are a “film festival,” we’d love to know what your favorite film is?
I really enjoyed The Whale. Brendan Fraser was incredible!
GIFF urges everyone reading to take a look at the Abilis website, check out the mission for themselves, and get involved any way possible. We couldn’t be prouder to have the partnership with Abilis!