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Milestone Smiles: Favarh celebrates IDD identity

• Favarh’s Aim: Empower Lives, Inspire Hope

This article first appeared as the cover story in the November edition of

Today Magazine, our monthly publication

Editor’s Note — 2023 is the 65th anniversary for Favarh, aka the Arc of the Farmington Valley • This nonprofit was started in the Avon Congregational Church basement as the Favarh Day School for youth with intellectual disabilities — in the 1950s these children weren’t accepted in public school • Favarh moved to Canton in 2001 — today Favarh is Canton's largest private employer

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Special to Today Magazine

NESTLED IN THE HEART of Connecticut stands an organization that has been quietly transforming lives for 65 years. Favarh, also known as The Arc of the Farmington Valley, aims to be a beacon of hope and inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families.

The Arc movement, which began in the 1950s as a grassroots effort to advocate for individuals with IDD, has since grown into a nationwide network of organizations dedicated to creating a world where everyone — regardless of their abilities — can live, work and thrive.

Founded in 1958, Favarh (pronounced FAY-var) has been at the forefront of this movement in Connecticut, demonstrating a commitment to improving the lives of individuals with IDD in 34 towns in the Farmington Valley and Greater Hartford.

Favarh’s cause is simple yet profound: to empower individuals with IDD to live, work and participate fully in their communities. This mission is achieved through a wide range of programs and services that cater to the unique needs and aspirations of each person Favarh supports.

One of the pillars of Favarh’s success is the organization’s emphasis on person-centered planning.

Favarh residents Simon and Migdalia, who are dating, are all smiles at a Favarh dance

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Every person who walks through the door is treated as an individual with unique talents, dreams and goals. Favarh works closely with each individual and his or her family to create a personalized plan that charts a path toward independence and a meaningful life.

Whether it’s finding employment, living independently or pursuing hobbies and interests, Favarh aims to provide the support and resources needed to turn dreams into reality.

Employment opportunities are a vital aspect of Favarh’s work. The nonprofit partners with local businesses to create inclusive workplaces where people with IDD can contribute their skills and talents. Through vocational training and job coaching, Favarh helps participants build confidence and develop the skills needed to succeed in the workforce.

One shining example of Favarh’s impact on employment is its collaboration with BeanZ & Co. Café in Avon.

Employees with IDD are actively involved in the cafe’s daily operations, from preparing specialty drinks to managing customer orders. This partnership not only provides meaningful employment but also fosters a sense of belonging and community integration.

Beyond employment, Favarh offers a wide array of recreational and educational programs that promote skill development and social inclusion.

From art and music therapy to fitness classes and community outings, Favarh strives to ensure that individuals with IDD have the opportunity to explore their interests, make friends, contribute to their community, and lead fulfilling lives.

The Favarh Players presented “Aladdin Jr.” in 2023 — “The Lion King Jr.” is scheduled for March 2024

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Favarh’s commitment to inclusion extends to its housing programs.

The community offers a range of housing options — from group homes to supported living arrangements — designed to provide a safe and comfortable environment where people with IDD can thrive while maintaining their independence. One of Favarh’s unique housing initiatives is the development of Bear Woods Apartments in Canton.

This complex of 40 apartments gives 22 young adults with IDD their first opportunity to live outside their families’ homes. The Favarh residents have expressed joy and a newfound sense of independence, with one tenant saying, “I feel really good to be here — it makes me feel like a grown-up.”

A sister project to Bear Woods is Favarh’s Lavender Field Apartments in Bloomfield. Both of these apartment complexes offer tenants with IDD increased independence and autonomy in an integrated environment. They have become models for similar apartments in Connecticut and around the nation.

Favarh has also established Project SEARCH at UConn Health, an internship initiative that provides valuable work experience for participants with IDD and then helps them find employment opportunities at area workplaces. Due to its success, the program has grown statewide.

Favarh resident Marge with her staff support person, Cheryl Cianciolo — Marge celebrated her 80th birthday last year

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Another unique initiative is the Favarh Players program, a fully inclusive annual theater production that allows individuals with IDD to showcase their talents on stage while promoting inclusivity and creativity. Volunteer actors from the community work alongside Favarh participants with IDD over the course of six months in weekly rehearsals, culminating in three live performances.

In 2024, the Favarh Players are scheduled to present “The Lion King Jr.” from March 15-17 at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford.

Almost as old as the organization itself, the Favarh Thrift Shop at 250 Albany Turnpike (Route 44) in Canton is a hidden gem that not only offers budget-friendly treasures but also plays a crucial role in supporting Favarh’s mission. When Favarh was established in 1958, one of the first fundraising endeavors was the thrift shop, with proceeds funding the nonprofit’s programs and services.

This charming shop is a testament to the community’s generosity — it is stocked with an eclectic assortment of donated and gently used clothing, furniture, books and unique knick-knacks.

Shoppers can discover one-of-a-kind finds and score great deals while knowing that their purchases directly contribute to Favarh’s efforts to empower people with IDD. And this win-win thrift shop is run by a small army of committed and welcoming volunteers. Applicants encouraged!

“We proudly hold the distinction of being the largest private employer in the town of Canton” — Stephen Morris • Favarh executive director

The Arc of the Farmington Valley is more than an organization — it’s a tight-knit community of individuals, families, staff and volunteers who share a common goal: to fashion a world where people of all abilities are valued and included. Guests can sense this palpable spirit of community when they visit the campus, where laughter, camaraderie, and a sense of purpose typically fill the air.

For over six decades, the success stories that have emerged from Favarh are a testament to the nonprofit’s dedication and unwavering belief in the potential of every individual.

From someone learning to communicate independently for the first time, to another securing a profitable job in their chosen field, to the widely celebrated marriage of two Favarh residents, Favarh’s impact reverberates throughout the Farmington Valley and beyond.

In an era where inclusivity and equality are at the forefront of societal conversations, Favarh stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when a community comes together to support and uplift those who need it most. The objective is not just to change lives, but also to change perceptions, break down barriers and inspire hope for a more inclusive future.

As Favarh celebrates a remarkable 65-year journey in the Farmington Valley, this noteworthy nonprofit reminds us that the true measure of a society’s progress resides in its ability to embrace and empower all people, regardless of their perceived abilities.

Favarh aims to serve as an inspiring reminder that when we work together, we can cultivate a world where everyone has the opportunity to shine. +

Sources — Favarh Marketing & Communications • Favarh website • Canton resident Penny Phillips is the director of marketing and communications at Favarh

• Related FeatureFavarh: Tracing Arc of IDD Story

Exclusive interview with executive director Stephen E. Morris

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