ORLEANS — Fifty years ago in this town, a mother whose son had aged out of special education services founded Nauset Workshop to provide opportunities for people with disabilities. This week, the organization, now known as Cape Abilities, announced its return to Orleans, having purchased the Universal Masonic Lodge as one of its centers for services.
“It is a wonderful legacy that we are honored to continue,” Cape Abilities President and Executive Director Rosalie Edes said of Elizabeth Tellier, who died in 2017 at the age of 100. “These parents were the pioneers who believed in their children's abilities and the positive impact that community involvement had on maximizing the potential of people with disabilities. As a parent of a 30-year-old gentleman with Down Syndrome, I am forever in their debt for their advocacy which created the system of community service we have today.”
Tellier, also the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, lived to see Cape Abilities grow across the Cape. It now serves more than 420 individuals with disabilities.
When Edes joined Cape Abilities in 2014 as executive director, the organization undertook a needs assessment and did some strategic planning. The board decided it should relocate its services at the Cochran Center in Eastham to a “more year-round community like Orleans” and started looking for properties, according to Edes.
“When we made the strategic decision to sell the Masonic building, we hoped it would find a use in keeping with our long tradition of charitable service in the community,” Universal Masonic Lodge Treasurer Robert Fellows said in a press statement. “Cape Abilities moving here is wonderful for their clients and for the town. They bring jobs to Orleans, provide essential services for those in need and will be an excellent steward of the property.” The Lodge will move in with other service organizations at the Northwest Schoolhouse, otherwise known as Odd Fellows Hall, on Namskaket Road.
“The size of the Masonic Lodge is a good size for us,” Edes said. “We will be doing some renovations” and hope to begin offering services in the summer of 2019. Meanwhile, Cape Associates, which is buying the Cochran Center in Eastham, will lease it back to Cape Abilities for a year until the Orleans center is ready.
The primary program in Orleans will be day habilitation, said Edes, “for individuals with disabilities who need ongoing therapeutic support and medical support to maintain and increase independence. In addition, we also do some vocational services,” including support through job coaches for people employed by community businesses. “The building will be sort of a launch pad for that,” she said. “We know we will have more opportunities being down in Orleans for employment for people with disabilities.”
Cape Abilities has community-based day support programs in Falmouth and Hyannis, and is considering one for its new building in Orleans. These pre-vocational training programs “helps people get job-ready,” Edes said. “One of the ways to do that is to engage in volunteer work in the community.”
The organization, which will mark the 50th anniversary of its incorporation at its annual meeting Sept. 26 in Hyannis, is looking forward to working with another group founded by parents whose children with special needs have aged out of the school system. “We have done some work with Bob Jones and his board at Cape Cod Village,” Edes said of the complex being built for adults on the autism spectrum at the other end of Main Street. “We have homes in Orleans as well. Certainly, that's going to be a nice collaboration.”