-six years ago, Mary Walsh could not have imagined that her hopes and dreams for her little boy with severe disabilities would come full circle when another little boy with a disability grew up to become Mary’s caregiver during her final days.
It all started in 1953 when Mary and her husband Jack of Danbury, Connecticut simply wanted to give their son Jimmy a better life. Finding few resources at the time, they placed an ad in the Danbury NewsTimes newspaper inviting parents with similar concerns to meet in their home. Their activism gave birth to a local grassroots movement that would become Ability Beyond and change the lives of generations of families.
“The Walsh’s dedicated their lives to creating programs and providing the support that children with developmental disabilities would need to grow and live in their communities,” explained Jane Davis, President & CEO of Ability Beyond. “Although their efforts would not directly benefit their son, the lives of 30,000 others have been enriched by opportunities and independence since Ability Beyond began.”
One of the individuals whose life was transformed by the Walsh’s vision was a participant in Ability Beyond’s pioneering Transition to Employment Program. The client knew that he wanted to be a Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA) and worked with an Employment Specialist on resume building and interviewing skills. After completing the program, he finally found a job he loves as a CNA at Candlewood Valley Health Center in New Milford, CT.
Surreptitiously, Mary was living at Candlewood in 2016 when the client became her caregiver. He saw a framed NewsTimes article on Mary’s wall about her life’s work on behalf of people with disabilities as the founder of Ability Beyond. He excitedly told Mary and her family that because of her and Jack’s incredible determination, he was doing the work of his dreams!
The Walsh’s other son, John (Jack) Walsh Jr, shares this story as testament of Ability Beyond’s lasting impact. Jack Jr. and his wife Paula proudly carry on his parents’ legacy. Throughout the years, the couple has tirelessly volunteered at Ability Beyond events, served on the Board of Trustees, and supported fundraising campaigns. In Jimmy’s memory and for all individuals with disabilities, they work passionately to sustain Ability Beyond services.
“Mary and Jack began by rallying community support to create local day care, school and recreational supports for children—all run by parent volunteers,” said Davis. “Now more than ever, our nonprofit organization is relying on the community to financially support these crucial programs.”
Davis notes initial government funding in the 1960’s led to the creation of comprehensive programs and employment services for adults as well as children and adapted group homes. But in recent years, funding for many of Ability Beyond’s residential and day programs has been drastically cut.
“Our client’s ability to find meaningful employment embodies the Walsh’s dream for Ability Beyond in the most personal way,” concluded Davis. “Many more success stories like his have yet to be written, and many more individuals need the services that Ability Beyond provides.”