Mark Palardy began at BHMA in 2014 as a Summer Program attendee and was captivated by our musical atmosphere and close-knit community. He then enrolled in our Two-Year Transition Program to establish a foundation of independent living and job readiness skills—areas that he has furthered since matriculating into our LIVE Program in 2017. Mark, who has Noonan syndrome and experiences hearing loss as well, is passionate about music, and his schedule is centered around using it as a means of employment. A member of our working band The Groovers, Mark regularly performs in the community––providing him an opportunity to challenge himself, receive compensation, and change perceptions of people with disabilities.
Musically and otherwise, Mark has flourished at BHMA. After residing in our on-campus dormitory—first in a room, and later in the apartment—he moved to one of our off-campus houses. Under the supervision of an advisor, Mark continues to advance his independence when it comes to managing his laundry, self-care, cooking, and free time. He immerses himself in all of his classes—Experimental Science allows him to “try new things and see what happens,” while Vocational Art gives him an outlet to express himself artistically. Mark also enjoys working in the BHMA kitchen, being a part of the Special Olympics bowling team, and participating with the Boltwood Project and Best Buddies. He credits the staff with helping him gain confidence in his ability to one day live in his own apartment.
Since graduating from BHMA’s two-year program in 2017, Carly Ziemba has focused on expressing herself through dance, art, and music as part of the LIVE Program. An integral member of our new vocational dance group, each week Carly participates in individual lessons and group rehearsals—practicing choreography for weekly community performances. Carly has Williams syndrome, and her sense of positivity and leadership shine as she moves through her routines and cheers on her classmates. The program allows her to use dance as a platform to showcase her talents, inspire others to move, and get paid for doing what she loves.
When not dancing, Carly creates works of art in our Ascending Artist Program—engaging in mediums like ceramics and photography. In her own words, “when I make art, I feel free, happy and joyful.” Her singing voice is strong and clear, and she dreams of one day recording her own album, having already penned a song in memory of a friend. Carly also works a regular shift at Trader Joe’s, takes part in our Vocational Math course, and learns about regulating her feelings in Emotional Well-Being. BHMA “feels like a family” to Carly, and she is grateful for how staff members always encourage her to advocate for herself.
Franklin Nichols discovered his passion for the piano when he was just three years old, and since then his countless hours of practice and natural talent have made him a master of the keys. A music enthusiast, he also plays the flute, saxophone, accordion, and harmonica. Franklin, who has autism and is blind, learns by ear and can fill every musical part of an arrangement with ease—often becoming engrossed in melodies and harmonies, while contemplating the theory behind it all.
Franklin lived in the dorms at BHMA for two years before he and his mom relocated to Massachusetts so he could continue to attend our program and pursue music. When he matriculated into the LIVE Program in 2015, Franklin joined BHMA’s Performance Troupe; he rehearses with the eight-member band daily, and is booked for regular, paid gigs at schools, conferences, and various events across the Northeast. With his signature charisma and humor, he also entertains audiences through his work as a solo musician and accompanist.
Franklin aspires to be a professional musician, as well as an advocate for others with disabilities. During Troupe performances, he shares powerful testimony about his experience living with a disability. Franklin also speaks about the importance of acceptance and inclusion—values he aims to embody in his own life. Innately inquisitive, Franklin enjoys getting to know people, traveling around the world, and using the internet to teach himself different languages, including Spanish, Hebrew, and Japanese. Franklin continues to work on his independence at home.
Paige Phillips is happiest when she is singing with her friends or entertaining audiences at community gigs. Thus, it only made sense that she would pursue music as a member of BHMA’s LIVE Band. Since matriculating into our long-term program in 2017, Paige, who has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability, has brought her enthusiasm for music to group rehearsals and gigs. With her emphasis on technique, she is able to make each piece of music her own, while still fitting it into the broader arrangement. Together the band presents classics like “Isn’t She Lovely” and “I Want You Back,” with Paige often singing and keeping the rhythm with a tambourine. Being a part of a group is important to her, and she always celebrates the successes of her bandmates as they travel around the area for paid weekly gigs.
Paige’s love for performance does not end with music—the launch of BHMA’s vocational dance group in 2019 provided her with another venue to spread joy in the community. Though she experiences some challenges with mobility, Paige modifies choreography to meet her needs and has a strong sense of determination that powers her through each dance number. Her excellent memory for movement allows her to thrive when learning creative dance routines and leading the crowd in movement exercises. Paige does it all at BHMA—practicing piano in her weekly lessons, competing on our Special Olympics bowling team each winter, and cheering on her peers in moments big and small.
Jen Barrett lived in the dorms at BHMA for three years before her family relocated to South Hadley when she turned twenty-two. Jen, who has Down syndrome, now attends our LIVE Program during the day and is pursuing our vocational art track. As a member of the Ascending Artist Program, Jen makes a range of creations and earns a paycheck from sales at art shows, local businesses, and our online marketplace. She is quick to learn new processes and has become skilled with a range of techniques—from gelatin printmaking and acrylic pouring, to silk scarf marbling. Jen particularly loves ceramics and photography, and is most content when she is crafting out of clay or capturing a picture of her surroundings.
After spending time in our vocational prep class in her first year in the LIVE Program, Jen began working a weekly shift at a yoga studio in town. She is great at welcoming customers and implementing employer feedback, which has allowed her to make significant progress since she started at the job. Musically, Jen has impressive pitch and rhythm accuracy, and she continues to build her vocal range as she works on material ranging from Taylor Swift hits to Celine Dion ballads. In all that she does—from going on Community Independence walks, to studying different cultures in Around the World—Jen brings her creativity, curiosity, and humor.
“I’m good at dates,” declares rising LIVE member Jack Ryan with conviction. Centered around holidays, birthdays, and other significant events, Jack can quickly calculate the exact date or day of the week of something years before and decades ahead. It is an impressive yet unexplainable skill, and one of the ways he easily connects with peers and staff in the BHMA community. A social and inquisitive individual, Jack loves to swim in the ocean, ride the subway in New York City and Washington D.C., and watch Boston sports and the Olympics. Jack has autism and he is the oldest in a set of triplets—the bond he shares with his siblings Amelia and Conor is apparent when he talks about them and their own college adventures.
After attending the Learning Clinic in Brooklyn, Connecticut for four years, Jack started with us as a day student on June 25, 2018. Though he was initially apprehensive about joining a new program, within a few months Jack found his niche at BHMA. Since then, he has mastered the social skills curriculum and his banking routine, became braver in the kitchen, and established job skills at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. When Jack joins the LIVE Program in the fall, he plans to apply the lessons he learned on the job, such as the importance of teamwork and professionalism, and join the workforce—preferably at the Big Y in Longmeadow. Musically, he sings with a beautiful tone, and he is developing his right- and left-hand coordination on the piano and building his stage presence through performances with our Music & Human Service Seminar. Jack is bright, kind, and funny, and is always the first to wish everyone in the BHMA community a happy birthday.