Maximizing Independence and Belonging

Vista runs Creations, a retail store in downtown Madison that offers handcrafted work of more than 60 Northeastern United States artisans

Students at Vista Vocational & Life Skills Center, as well as community members, can participate in a variety of projects such as painting in Madison. Photo courtesy of Vista Vocational.

Integrating their 165 students and members into the community is extremely important to Vista Vocational & Life Skills Center. The private, nonprofit educational program has been working with individuals with neurological disabilities, including autism, mild cerebral palsy or spina bifida, seizure disorders, and learning or processing difficulties for more than 20 years.

While approximately 40% of Vista members hail from Connecticut, the organization attracts individuals from all across the United States.

With campuses in Madison and Westbrook, Vista's program includes the Entrance Program, designed for students transitioning from home or a secondary school who live two years in dormitory-style living in Westbrook and one year in apartment living in Guilford. This is followed by the Outreach Program, which offers vocational, life skills, counseling, transportation, and recreation support and training for members living independently or nearby with their families.

While each individual is unique there is one thing that unites them at Vista.

"They all have the potential to live in the community without 24-hour supervision," says Chief Executive Officer Helen Bosch. "We really see ourselves as training and employment, getting people really out there in the community."

Vista has recently opened Creations, a retail store in downtown Madison that offers handcrafted work of more than 60 Northeastern United States artisans including candles, jewelry, pottery, and children's toys.

"It's a really positive place for us," says Bosch. "We're been using it to host different meetings. It's a meeting place. It can be a gathering place.

"It's just been a lot of different things that we've really realized it's connected us to the community in a very different way."

In addition to generating revenue for the organization, the store employs three Vista members.

"Creations has had a very successful season," says Bosch. "It seems to be well-received within the community."

Part of the retail space is specifically dedicated to CREATE (Creating Remarkably Expressive Art Through Empowerment), where Vista students and members, as well as community members, participate in a variety of projects and mediums, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and sewing.

CREATE was "designed to, number one, provide art to individuals who might need alternative methods to learn it, but secondly to really try to bring the community and individuals with disabilities together through a common activity."

The May 2016 presentation of "Pirates of Penzance" at The Kate in Old Saybrook will include 50 percent of individuals with disabilities and 50 percent of individuals from the community. "It's called an all abilities play," says Bosch.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has supported Vista Vocational through the Community Fund for Women & Girls, The Great Give®, and sponsorship grants for the Starlight Benefit at Waters Edge.

The arts programs, as well as all the other programs offered through Vista, are well received by those seeking services from the organization.

"It not only provides them an avenue for self-expression and creative growth," says Bosch. "As we all do, we all continue to learn throughout our lives. That is both for people with disabilities as well as not. I also think that given that they are really working alongside and hand in hand with folks from the community that is offering them a level of inclusion that you might not have otherwise seen."

To learn more about Vista Vocational, visit their® profile.

Did You Know?

"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires any employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship." Source:

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.