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Nonprofit in Woburn helps adults with disabilities learn important skills for a more independent life

Woburn nonprofit using yoga to help adults with disabilities become active community members
Woburn nonprofit using yoga to help adults with disabilities become active community members 03:46

WOBURN - Bridging Independent Living Together (BILT), a nonprofit based in Woburn, is celebrating five years of helping adults with disabilities become active participants in the Greater Boston community.

More services for adults with disabilities

"It's been a Godsend," said Coleen McAdam, whose daughter Emily comes to BILT four days a week. Emily recently aged out of state-run programs offered to those with disabilities.

"The transition was really challenging," she said. "[Emily] graduated in May from her regular school program, and we had no placement."

After turning 22, young adults like Emily are moved from special education schools and transferred to adult service programs. Often, there is not enough room for everyone.

"A lot of times we do see regression, or sometimes we even get individuals who are now 24/25, and they've been without a program for many years," explained Christina Gravina, the founder & CEO of BILT. "Once they come to us, we have to work on regaining those skills because they have lost some skills."

Gravina's organization works to bridge the gap in care for adults with disabilities. The CEO says her polling shows that over 70 percent of adults with disabilities don't have access to enough services.

"Many of them want to have jobs, many of them want to have flexible schedules, and many of them have a lot of them have skills they've worked really hard for," she added.

Learning life skills

Funded through a contract with the Department of Developmental Services and numerous grants, BILT not only gives adults with disabilities a place to go, but a place to grow. 

"We are not babysitters. We are not a program where people aren't going to sit here all day and color," said Gravina.

BILT teaches its clients important life skills like hygiene, job application, and cooking.

"I love nothing more when people are leaving from the center and they tell me 'guess what I finally learned how to cook a pizza at home by myself because I've been coming to cooking class,'" added Gravina. 

BILT also hosts yoga and art classes and takes its clients on field trips throughout the week. Recently, the group went to a goat farm. 

Regaining confidence 

Sou Chu, another parent of a BILT client, says she's noticed her daughter Sarah helping out more around the house. 

"When I asked her can you do this, she was like, 'Of course,' and there are other times, 'What can I do to help?' And that's a big step for her," said Chu.

Sou Chu's daughter Sarah was originally participating in the state-run adult service programs, until she felt her daughter started losing communication skills. Being in BILT, Chu says Sarah has regained her confidence.

"She's just amazing like she blossomed," added Chu.

As for Emily, her mom says she's learned how to navigate public transportation.

"Going on the MBTA adventures on Thursday is her favorite thing she talks about it, she looks at the schedules, she knows where she's going every week," said McAdam.

Skills like these, Gravina says, allow parents to take a step back, and give their children a real chance at living fulfilled and independent lives. 

"You teach them how to do a skill and they take so much pride in doing that skill," said Gravina. "They really bring life to our communities, if everyone was the same it would be a very boring world."

Five-year anniversary party

On Sunday, May 19, BILT is hosting a five-year anniversary party at their headquarters at 215 Lexington St. in Woburn. There will be snacks, raffle baskets, and live music from The Rockstar Graduates, a band made up of musicians with autism.

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