On the day before Lent, members of St. Catherine of Genoa were more concerned about what they could give than what they would be giving up.
The church welcomed residents in the Avancer-Genesis program Tuesday to the church for a Mardi Gras celebration that included food, music, crafts and other activities. The Avancer-Genesis program serves special needs adults in a assisted-living community setting with houses located in Genoa, Sycamore, DeKalb, Cortland and Davis Junction.
Linda Dolder, a member of the Respect Life Committee for St. Catherine, said the Mardi Gras party was a way to help the Avancer residents participate in a social setting and integrate into the larger community.
“They just love meeting people and doing these kind of activities,” Dolder said. “It’s important to get them mixed in with the community and it’s a lot of fun. Just look at all the smiles.”
St. Catherine and Avancer-Genesis have established a strong relationship in the past few years with events such as Valentine’s Day dances and summer barbecues becoming annual staples. A group of residents even goes to the weekly Sunday Mass.
The partnership has become increasingly important, said Avancer-Genesis staff member Carol Barnes, especially as the organization grows. The group just finished building a house in Cortland last week, bringing the total number of houses to 16.
Barnes said about four to six people live in each house, but it is important for the residents to have interaction outside of their comfort group. Many residents warm up to their surrounding right away as evidenced by the group’s excitement to meet Dolder’s granddaughter and a visiting dog.
“They’re growing to know so much more about our individuals now,” Barnes said of the St. Catherine congregation. “They all have developed some sort of relationship with each other.”
Don Ahles, pastor for St. Catherine, agreed with Barnes and said the residents have become a fixture at Sunday Mass. He said many members are disappointed when the group is unable to come for their weekly visit.
“They didn’t make it out last Sunday and everyone was looking for them,” Ahles said. “These are the easy things to do. It helps us become aware of needing to be part of the whole community we’re in.”
St. Catherine is not the first church to work with Avancer-Genesis, Barnes said, but it has become the most involved. Barnes said because residents’ homes are so spread out some people go to Salem Lutheran Church in Sycamore and others to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb.
With more than 90 people and counting in the program, Barnes said community partnerships would be important for support.
“St. Catherine has been wonderful and very good to our people,” Barnes said. “I think we’ll definitely be doing more together in the future.”
On the day before many people give up something for Lent, Dolder said people should give up stereotypes about adults with disabilities.
“We have to respect all life,” she said. “They are just as much a part of our community as anyone else.”