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What is Elements of Ellen?

The Elements of Ellen project was created in 2012 in memory of Ellen Lassonde, a lifelong 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 we began the Elements of Ellen project to help women and men with IDD enjoy the same sense of self-expression and confidence that Ellen herself displayed throughout her life.

The overall purpose of the project is to support women and men as they move toward an understanding of how their self-presentation skills in the community can affect their successes. Elements of Ellen focuses on the development of these skills as well as the exploration of self-expression through personal care and personal 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.

Important Lessons

It’s all about “me.” Our most effective lessons are designed around the interests of the people attending, and which they can easily apply to their own lives. Each participant is encouraged to apply each lesson to their specific circumstances, whether it’s employment, communicating at home, or socializing in the community.

Stimulating the senses. Participants have a chance to implement their skills in community settings, and see the results of how behavior and self-presentation affects relationships and social/personal/employment outcomes. 


It’s important not to shy away from sensitive topics. The program creates an environment where people can talk openly about caring for their bodies. Some of the conversations surrounding personal care have been the liveliest and have had the most participation.

Call 860.889.4435 x108 for more information.

*If donating by check, please make payable to:

The Arc Eastern Connecticut
125 Sachem Street
Norwich, CT 06360

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