Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“When my daughter was heading into 9th grade, I decided to leave my job as a preschool teacher, so I could help her with high school. She has learning issues and we felt it was better if I could just be a little bit more hands-on with her. She made it through high school and she graduated.

But she has learning disabilities and she has developmental delays, so her cognitive level of understanding is lower functioning than what your average person her age would be. So even though she graduated with a diploma that says that she is employable, she really isn’t. After graduating, she was having problems being out in the real world, and there’s nothing there to transition those students who fall into that category.

When she graduated she went through a year where my husband and I were very frustrated. She was also frustrated. She wasn’t doing anything all her friends, because they had all moved on. She volunteered, but it just wasn’t enough to keep her motivated and to keep her feeling she had a purpose in life. terms of what you want to give her but also in terms of how that makes you feel.

Well honestly, I mean we were we were frustrated we were we we didn’t know what to do, you know, because a lot of the services that are out there she doesn’t qualify for so we were trying to figure out what you know, how do we help her, you know without giving her everything. How do we help her because we’re not going to be here forever? You know, we’re not going to be able to take care of her. How is she going to be able to handle being on her own? It was really hard.

We enrolled her in a program with the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) and sent her to Baltimore to the Workforce Technology Center. We drove her up to Baltimore on Sunday and she stayed until Thursday. It was very good for her and she also reconnected with one of her friends from elementary school.

When we got back, her mom and I decided to start getting these girls together once a week. We did that and another friend started joining, and after a while, people started seeing us out and we grew to six girls who did things on a regular basis together. At first, it was doing things socially, like going to the movies, going to the fair, shopping. One time I think my husband took for girls by himself Christmas shopping so they could shop for their families. They started making those relationships and they had lost, and now they were even more meaningful. That’s when we started thinking more like, okay. what else can we do? You know, this can be bigger than us.

So we started opening our basement up once a week to these kids, and others that were interested. Some of it was social, but we were also introducing life skills. At one point we had 16 kids coming on a regular basis, and then we knew if we’re going to make this work, we need a bigger space because it’s just isn’t working. This past June we moved into this space at the King Building in Prince Frederick. Our weekly Wednesday evening program has grown to 25 for our social program. This week we played charades, and we have done a talent show and karaoke. It’s always low-cost and open to everyone.

We are also working on growing our daytime program that runs Tuesday-Thursday. Currently, we have five enrolled in that program, but we would like to grow it to 8-10. We have a structured curriculum that we use and we go over, you know, anything from daily living skills from budgeting money to how to do laundry to how to use the bank to how to grocery shop to communication skills.

Social skills, you know how to cook. How do you communicate with friends in a positive way today? We were talking about coping with surprises. How do we cope with things that change? You know what they don’t fit into our plans. How do we deal with that? You know, how do we work through those emotions so that it comes out in a positive way. If they’re here, I want them engaged. Yeah, I don’t want them just to sit. I don’t want them just to you know be talked at I don’t want them just busywork. I want their minds to be actively engaged and I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job. I want to grow things slowly, and do things right. I have big goals because I really love these kids and I believe the work we are doing at The Connection is really important.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...