Poem By: Kara Curtin, EST Participant
There is a yellow door on the corner of the street. The atmosphere there is warm and inviting. The air smells of cookies, and voices clamor all around the walls, closed into a safety net of sorts for those of us who are different but oh, so strong. Everything that we are is okay here. The door leads home. I feel safe there. Like nothing bad can touch me anymore.
It can't get in. Enter through the door. Locked out. Unwelcome.
Instead, the yellow door holds acceptance, quality and friendship. Its own beauty which the world around us needs more of. And so, we can change it. Just by being ourselves. And nothing else. And that is okay. There is respect and kindness inside the yellow door, and all are welcome here. We are free to be ourselves, regardless of what that entails, and all are seen as unique and special, no matter what anyone else thinks or says. That's just the way it is here. The yellow door holds home, a family, a community and individuality; all within the confines of four walls, a few windows and a roof.
A simple house with a yellow door is all it is. And so much more.
Five days each week, participants are dropped off by parents and caregivers (or transported by our spectacular van) to learn, work, and thrive in our warm and welcoming teahouse. Protection of this vulnerable population is of the utmost importance. We love providing a safe haven for our participants – and other adults with disabilities in the community.
Community-Based Day Program: All participants engage in fun and stimulating activities scheduled throughout the day by our Day Program Manager, Alicia. You might walk in and find several of our participants doing an art activity with Kristen, playing a card or board game with Ed or, if it’s Friday, participating in a group project of preparing a lunch of the group’s choice. During the warmer months, there is wonderful laughter coming from our courtyard garden where our participants maintain the flower beds & pots which adorn ExtraSpecialTeas and play music and sing. We love celebrating holidays and birthdays and look forward to festivities for every single one!
We do activities together, like:
Art Therapy: Participants regularly have the opportunity to engage in art therapy groups led by Kristen. Art therapy allows our participants to relax, process their emotions in a constructive way, engage in sensory exploration, and connect with others in the group. Our projects are diverse and include: watercolors, acrylic painting, drawing, collage, and clay. Our groups also occasionally lead us outside, where we paint bright pallets for our garden or collect objects found in nature for art projects.
Gardening: Together with our community friends and local grants, we added new perennial beds with advice and help from our professional Landscaping Volunteer, upgraded our walkway to our handicap accessible lift and beautified our lounging platform seating areas where we host local musicians and authors. This year we want to do even more in the garden: host more performances by local musicians, performers and artists to engage the community and the participants; have participants create a large visual piece to draw community to our garden and promote our belief that “The Future Belongs to Everyone Belonging” and fund the purchase of more beautiful perennials.
Music Program: Our Music Program is headed up by a local Musician Volunteer. Every Monday at 10:30 a.m., Allen Timmons comes to EST, and volunteers to play his guitar and encourages our participants to use their voices! The laughter and beautiful music that comes from our garden is something to behold! Each year in August, our participants perform at the Gazebo in Great Barrington for the Summer Concert Series.
Community Volunteering & Events: Our participants volunteer their services at businesses like Taft Farm during the Holidays for wreath-making or during the summer/fall months at Gideons Garden, which provides food for the local Food Pantry. We volunteer at our local Chamber of Commerce, helping with mailouts and participate at the Shop, Sip and Stroll at the wreath-making booth. If you or your business is looking for local volunteers, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking for new volunteer opportunities for our participants!
Community Outings: We do seasonal outings such as hiking, touring local farms and berry picking in the summer, attending local concerts and the Berkshire Festival of Trees at Berkshire Musuem in the winter. Any place the participants want to go within a reasonable traveling distance, we go!
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Our supported group-employment program is headed up by Kristen, our vocational teacher. Participants work on the tea room floor with Hannah and Caitlin and are involved in all the duties of running a tea room – like greeting and waiting on customers, running the cash register, stocking shelves, taking inventory, busing tables, and washing dishes. With the help of Kristen's wonderful skills and knowledge, our participants create all the gluten-free baked goods for our tea house. Alicia and Jennifer head up a group that stamps all our paper goods, such as bags, cups, and tissue paper for our take out goodie boxes. Ed leads a group that handles labels and packaging for all our EST products and heads up building projects or basic handyman activities. Participants are paid at least minimum wage for work performed at the teahouse in our group supported employment program. We believe that people with disabilities deserve & desire equal opportunities.
Person Centered Career Planning: For those who have not quite yet found their perfect line of work or "dream job", Sara leads our staff in doing extensive interest inventories, person-centered career exploration, and skill assessments. This safeguards absolute fulfillment in their path to interest and skill based employment. Once these interests have been identified, the skill building and ongoing employment support never stops evolving. We are always developing new jobs, further ensuring the pursuit to happy and enriched employment.
Baking: Our baking program is popular with our participants and we want to keep them engaged and learning. We want to take them to community bakeries, host guest bakers, and access experts to help us continue to produce delicious gluten-free baked goods. Our participants will be involved in all of this.
Crafting: Some of our participants are very adept at crafting, such as following the steps to create necklaces and bracelets, greeting cards, and tea-infused products, such as BathBrews, TeaLite candles and soaps. We want to continue to create amazing products for tea house visitors!
Product Development, Online Store and Pack and Ship Programs: We now make and package 92 of our own products, most of which are tea-infused! We have launched our online store and package and ship all items that are ordered.
Tea Blending: During the pandemic, we were fortunate enough to do Zoom meetings with Patrick from Tiesta Tea about tea blending and were inspired to launch our own Signature Teas. Hannah has been certified by the World Tea Academy as a Tea Specialist. She is passing all the skills she has learned along to the participants as she teaches them about teas and all the ingredients used to blend our own unique blends. All participants and staff are included in the final decision of the names and tastes of the teas we are blending. All the names of the teas will have something to do with our participants working towards and achieving their goals!