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Futures Inc.: Education, Job Training and Social Enterprise Help Build Futures for People with Disabilities

Futures Inc. is headquartered at 902 South Quaker Lane, West Hartford, CT. Photo credit: Christine Hayden (courtesy photo)

Futures Inc. will showcase its social enterprise operation with a pop-up shop that includes a visit from Santa Claus at its new West Hartford headquarters on South Quaker Lane.

By Ronni Newton

Futures Inc. has quietly maintained a presence in West Hartford for decades, with a school at 1030 New Britain Ave. that successfully provides students with intellectual and physical disabilities a one-on-one educational experience that includes a strong hands-on focus on job training for positions in the community.

In the past year, the nonprofit agency and ARC affiliate has relocated its headquarters to a historic building at 902 South Quaker Lane in West Hartford, and is expanding its local visibility by offering a variety of programs as well as an introduction to the organization’s highly-successful social enterprise program.

On Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14 and 15, Good Cause Gifts, the Futures Inc. boutique store that was the state’s first social enterprise, will hold a pop-up shop inside the West Hartford headquarters. Good Cause Gifts offers the latest in home goods, decor, baby, children, and women’s clothing and accessories, and operates permanent locations in Berlin (384 Main St.) and at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain. Some of the staff members are individuals with disabilities.

On Saturday, guests at the pop-up will have the opportunity to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or coffee while visiting with Santa, and friendly dogs are even welcome to accompany families for photo sessions.

Friday hours for the pop-up are noon-7 p.m. and Saturday hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Santa will arrive at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Some of the dog treats prepared by Futures School students. Photo credit: Christine Hayden (courtesy photo)

Social enterprise is one of the cornerstones of Futures Inc. In addition to the two home goods and clothing stores, “The Kitchen at Futures Inc.” sells dog treats, granola, and sweet treats that are prepared in two commercial kitchens.

Executive Chef Mary Dean also runs a “baking boot camp” with the students, selecting the ingredients, preparing the food, and selling it at local farmers markets.

A grant recently obtained from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving provided funding to renovate the kitchen at the headquarters building in West Hartford, where classes like pie-making are offered to people of all abilities in the community as part of the social enterprise operation.

Training in cooking skills. Photo credit: Christine Hayden (courtesy photo)

“We’re really excited about our social enterprise businesses,” said President and CEO Pamela DonAroma.

Any profits are invested back into the organization to provide more opportunities for those it serves and promote the Futures Inc. mission.

The remodeled kitchen is also used as part of training for independent living.

And as Futures Inc. looks to become more directly involved in the West Hartford community, there will likely be more collaboration with other organizations, said Project Manager Tracey O’Brien.

Each student at the Futures School has an individualized support network that may include a social worker and psychologist, DonAroma said. Enrollment is about 30 students, ages 14-21, and all are engaged in some sort of work component based on their interests and skills.

The success rate for job placement is high, DonAroma said. “One of the students showed a real talent for cake decorating,” she said, and is now employed as an assistant chef.

West Hartford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Lerner modeling at the Futures Inc. fashion show on Nov. 1. Photo credit: Christine Hayden (courtesy photo)

“It’s all about keeping individuals in their community,” DonAroma said. The organization’s overall focus is on functional academics, community participation, and independent living skills training.

Futures Inc. relies on state funding as well as earnings from its social enterprises businesses to operate its school and adult services programs. In addition, the organization holds an annual fashion show with local models featuring clothing and accessories from Good Cause Gifts. The most recent fashion show and silent auction, held Nov. 1 at the Aqua Turf, attracted 500 guests and netted more than $60,000. Next year’s fashion show will be held on Nov. 14.

Futures Inc. is currently updating its website, and beginning in early 2019, a schedule of cooking classes will be available for online registration.

For more information about Futures Inc. visit their website futures-ct.org or call 860-347-5099.

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Photo credit: Christine Hayden (courtesy photo)

Futures Inc. is headquartered at 902 South Quaker Lane, West Hartford, CT. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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