Community Volunteers Zoom-In with STAR, Inc. to Provide Virtual Experiences for Neighbors with Disabilities

From the onset of the Coronavirus National Emergency and mandatory closings, STAR provides virtual enrichment experiences to scores of day program and residential clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Collaborating with local businesses, instructors, dignitaries and volunteers, STAR introduced virtual programming via online Zoom classes, coined STARCASTs. These online classes allow STAR clients and their families to connect with their friends from STAR and participate in the safety of their home. For some family members separated because of quarantine or visitation restrictions, the meetings provide the welcome relief of being able to see those they miss thriving and safe. “The Zoom classes have been a terrific idea during this time of isolation for many of us. Zoom is a wonderful opportunity for STAR individuals to keep their minds and bodies active with the wide variety of classes offered. As a parent I am also immensely enjoying Zoom especially since I can see my son and his joyful participation and his smile which gives my day a boost,” says Sharon Ippolitio, mother of a STAR client.

The STARCASTs are 45-minute online classes provided at no cost to STAR participants and hosted by local businesses and volunteers who generously donate their time and talents. Many of the high-quality classes that were offered in person prior to COVID-19 for STAR participants have successfully migrated online. STARCASTs occur four times per day every weekday. Class offerings include crafts, cooking, dance, fitness, mindful meditation, yoga, and music. Participants enjoy live magic shows, art classes, garden tours, photography, nutrition, health and wellness checks.

Kari Ryan, STAR Director of Employment and Day Services, says, “We are so excited that we are able to meet and exceed the challenge of finding new ways to provide programming for STAR clients that align with their interests and needs and keep to the high standards we have set for our programming. It is definitely a “win-win” situation” and we are so pleased with its great success. During these times of anxiety and isolation, STAR is happy to connect clients with their friends, family and staff.”

Bruno Tomasi, Father of a STAR client says, “The Zoom classes and meetings have been a godsend. They have truly saved my son’s life, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. My son was so depressed, sad, bored and confused- there was little I could do to keep him happy. After the live Zoom, everything changed. He asks me every morning to print out a schedule with all the activities he wants to join, and he does with joy and pleasure.”

Each STARCAST on Zoom hosts upwards of 50 participants. Classes are interactive and instructors engage with the participants by offering project instruction, encouragement, praise and group sharing. Some recent STARCAST classes have included Cupcake decorating with Westport resident Yvonne O’Kane, Wake Up with AJ Discala from Dynamic Fitness in Darien, Zumba, Magic with Marco, Art & Crafts with the Wilton Historical Society, Silvermine Art Center, Norwalk artist Rene Soto and Miggs Burroughs of Westport. Farm and garden tours and cooking classes with Wakeman Town Farm, Osteria Romano and Don Carmello’s restaurants both located in Norwalk. Animal care and lessons with New Canaan Mounted Troop and Possibilities Farm in Wilton. STARCASTs also included special guest visits from local dignitaries like State Senators Bob Duff and Will Haskell.

The whole Davis Family has been tuning in to the weekly STARCASTs and says, “STAR has taken into account the well-being of not only the STAR participants, but their families as well. Please continue the quality Zoom classes! It gives us hope and happiness through this tough time,” relates a parent of a STAR client.

The STARCAST participants were also treated to several live music performances, including a series of virtual dance parties with DJ Joe, aka Joe Agostino from Norwalk, who is a participant in STAR day programs as well as an up-and-coming professional DJ. “Joey is SOOO excited to get up each day and get set for the variety of Zoom classes provided by STAR – from working out with AJ to Zumba with Nicole, informative chats with Dr. Marc, art classes, cooking lessons with Lisa and so many more …Even Dance parties with DJ Joe !!” shares Joe’s mother Laurie. “Covid has rocked my son Joey and his STAR family so much – not only a lack of socialization, but a lack of ‘purpose,’ were big concerns during this lock down. As a parent, the fear of depression is real and valid but these Zoom classes add so much to his day. STAR even created a safe place to be social with peers in the newest classes called “Chat & Chill” which allows participants to engage with their friends in a small online group setting with a facilitator. Each night my son pulls out his phone and adds the next day STARCAST Zoom events to his calendar with a big smile on his face.”

“STAR is so grateful for the support of our community partners who are generously sharing their time, talent and expertise to provide Zoom classes to over 100 of our neighbors who are impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities during these challenging times,” commented Katie Banzhaf, STAR Executive Director.

“In addition to the wonderful content provided, the classes help people stay connected, and actively engaged. While we look forward to the reopening of STAR’s day services, we anticipate that Zoom classes at some level will continue to have a role in the curriculum.”
“Kudos to STAR for taking the lead in providing safe, fun ways for participants to stay active and connected. The diversity of choices and welcoming spirit within classes are much appreciated. Keep it going!” says STAR family member Sally Carta.

Celia Bobrowsky who has been joining the zoom classes with her sister shares, “The STARCAST Virtual Classes have helped my sister Rachelle get through this very challenging time. While she misses her friends at STAR and can’t wait to see them in person again, she thoroughly enjoys many of the ZOOM classes.”