What is Elements of Ellen?
The Elements of Ellen project was created in memory of Ellen Lassonde, a life-long resident of Norwich, who always presented herself well-dressed from head to toe. As a result, she appeared confident and, more importantly, competent. In partnership with Ellen's family, The Arc Eastern Connecticut began the Elements of Ellen project to help women and men with intellectual and developmental disabilities enjoy the same sense of self-expression and confidence that Ellen herself portrayed throughout her life.
The overall purpose of the project is to support women and men as they move toward an understanding of their self-presentation skills in the community and their life success. The heart of Elements of Ellen lies in the development of these self-presentation skills and the exploration of self-expression through empowerment groups, if desired, and through personal care and style. Particularly important is the vocational component of the project, which supports workplace self—presentation and professional success.
Elements of Ellen’s pilot year (2013-14) provided 12 participants with an individualized community experience to address the relationship between how they feel on the outside to how they feel on the inside. Each participant was treated to an experience designed just for them, based on survey and interview data gathered by the project administrators. During the shopping portion, participants were encouraged to try on outfits for different occasions and talk about how each made them look and feel. They talked with sales representatives to learn more about picking clothing that fit properly and accessorizing and make one outfit appropriate for multiple occasions. Participants also chose a personal care experience, such as visiting a hair or nail salon or getting a facial and massage, and learned about products and regimens they could do at home.
While the pilot year was successful, participants wanted and needed more than just the one day experience. They wanted to learn how to find the types of clothing they enjoyed wearing, find local stylists that they could access on their own, and how to plan for the expense of personal care. We also found that with the acquisition of these skills, participants were better prepared to represent themselves in an employment setting. With the appropriate social skills and dress, they became a viable candidate for a position that met the skill set they had.
For the second year of the project, co-facilitators Denise Tift and Lara Chiaverini designed a curriculum to provide the tools and knowledge people need to continue meeting their personal care needs in the community. The project helped participants develop natural supports in the community so that they could meet their needs as independently as possible. Each practical application component was designed to put in action the ideas and concepts learned in the previous lessons. Participants then reconvened to talk about what they learned, how they used the knowledge, and how they can continue to apply it moving forward.
The specific goal of Year Two was to provide people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) with employment and life skills to successfully obtain employment and/or independently access community resources. The year-long educational course resulted in people with I/DD preparing for employment and independent living through development of social skills, appropriate workplace attire, financial management and building community partnerships.
The project targeted people who had a desire to or were currently living independently in the community, those looking to gain or retain employment, and those looking to learn about their community to become a more involved citizen. The project did not place restrictions based on income or skill level.
Elements of Ellen offered a total of 19 workshops/events. The project offered four courses, each with four classes. The project also hosted a kickoff half-day workshop and a holiday gathering, for a total of 18 workshops. The 19th workshop was a community event which served as an opportunity for current participants to implement the skills they had learned and share the concepts with potential new participants. The event served as both a skills assessment and a recruitment tool for year two. Workshops consisted of classroom-style conversation, interactive lessons, videos and special guests.The Arc NLC utilized a college intern to assist in lesson planning and instruction. Through lessons facilitated by the intern, the facilitators had the opportunity to learn which types of teaching strategies were the most effective with the audience. Each lesson had several components to accommodate all learning styles, as well as a practical application workshop in the community.
What we learned
The Elements of Ellen project has been a tremendous success for the people choosing to attend. While many adjustments had to be made throughout the sessions, the concepts chosen were understood and utilized. Here’s what we learned:
It’s all about “me.” Our most effective lesson were ones designed around the interests of the people attending, and ones they could easily apply to their own life. It became our goal to help each participant understand and apply each lesson to their specific circumstances, whether it was employment, communicating in their homes or socializing in the community.
Stimulating the senses. Our best lessons were ones that participants could see, touch and manipulate the topics. We could talk until we were blue in the face, but the lesson finally “clicked” when participants had the chance to actually implement the skills.
We had to “go there.” We talked about many so topics, some of which were sensitive in nature. As facilitators, we had to get past the uncomfortable nature of the topics and create an environment where people could talk openly about caring for their bodies. Some of the conversations surrounding personal care were the liveliest and had the most participation.
The most memorable moment in the program was a lesson on personal hygiene and germs. Facilitators Denise Tift and Lara Chiaverini created a lesson to show participants how easily germs spread if people do not wash their hands. Using red and purple glitter to represent germs, Denise and Lara first covered their hand and then shook the hand of the closest person, transferring the “germs” to him or her. That person then shook another person’s hand, and so forth, until everyone was covered in “germs.” Though we were all laughing by the end, the lesson hit home and participants talked about it for weeks, with several people reminding others to wash their hands before eating, or asking if they remembered to wash when coming out of the bathroom.
Call 860.889.4435 x 108 for more information.
*If donating by check, please make payable to:
The Arc Eastern Connecticut
125 Sachem Street
Norwich, CT 06360