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PEF members spread holiday cheer to OPWDD group home residents


COVID-19 restrictions meant no holiday parties for residents in Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) group homes across the state.

That didn’t sit well for PEF members Brad Bourgeois, Bill Erario and Katherine Bracci, who teamed up to spread a little holiday cheer to residents who have been isolated even more than usual by lack of visitors and program closures.

“Every year we had a holiday party,” Erario, a habilitation specialist and 12-year PEF member, said. “Unfortunately because of COVID we are unable to do those because day habs have been either shut down or houses are on quarantine and we are not commingling the individuals.

“Katherine came up with the idea around Halloween when we were thinking what can we do to spread a little holiday cheer because a lot of our residents like that,” he said.

In October, the surrounding communities rallied around their group homes and donated enough candy for each resident to receive a bag of goodies. Riding in a decorated van, the three delivered the candy to group homes.

“It was very successful and well received,” Erario said.

As Christmas approached, another idea formed – why not dress up as Santa, Mrs. Claus and Santa’s elf and visit group homes? The three expanded from their home county of Otsego and included Delaware County group homes in the festivities.

Donning masks, they went out to all the group homes in both counties and greeted residents, dancing, waving and cheering outside the homes to maintain social distancing.

“Sometimes the staff knew we were coming and had Christmas music playing,” Erario said. “They were so happy to see us and so excited to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and Buddy the Elf. We’re happy that they enjoyed it and we like to do these things to make sure they have some normalcy.”

Residents at OPWDD group homes range in age from late teens to geriatric and their level of development disabilities varies. No matter their age or abilities, their excitement at the visits was obvious.

“They loved it,” said Bracci, a recreation therapist and PEF member for a year and eight months. She said one man was so happy to see them he would have run out to hug Santa if not for the COVID restrictions.

Bourgeois, a rehabilitation assistant and PEF member for a year, said it was time well spent.

“It was worth the extra effort to see them truly happy,” he said.