SPHERE celebrates 30 years, honors Rudy at gala Saturday

SPHERE — the Ridgefield-based organization that gives adults with disabilities things to do, places to go, activities, friends, feelings of community and belonging — is celebrating 30 years of service to the special needs community.

The organization will honor longtime supporter First Selectman Rudy Marconi with its “commitment to service award” at a 30th Anniversary Gala this Saturday, Nov. 4, starting at 6:30 at the Salem Golf Club, 18 Bloomer Road in North Salem. (For information or tickets, go to www.spherect.org.)

Attorney Rebecca Ciota described how the organization can deeply impact the lives of the people it serves.

“SPHERE currently serves 64 members from Ridgefield and our surrounding towns,” she said.  “Our programming and activities occur five days per week, giving our members options, social activities and venues for their artistic expression and creativeness. SPHERE helps to create a work-life balance by offering and fostering meaningful relationships and outlets socially, recreationally, artistically, and educationally for our members and our community.”  

A history of SPHERE’s 30 years, written by Jill Edelman and posted on the organization’s website, begins with its founding by “families whose children were born with cognitive disabilities that relegated them to the margins of childhood life” and who “foresaw that if they didn’t act together quickly, their adult children would spend a lifetime alone, in isolation, cut off from social, creative and educational opportunities.”

The history shares the story of two families, Christine and Michael Steele and their daughter Jocelyn and Ghislaine and Christopher Moomaw and their son John Andrew, and their role in the founding of SPHERE. The Steeles and Moomaws rejected expert advice to place their children in institutions, Edelman says, and came together with other families to start the organization — SPHERE, Special People’s Housing, Education, Recreation, Employment.

Meeting on a regular basis, the families developed programs that covered the performing and fine arts, recreation and socialization. They starting putting on plays, and formed the “Out and About Club” for recreational trips.

Edelman’s history described how Ghislaine and Christopher Moomaw and SPHERE led the effort to create Sunrise Cottage, a group home for six adults with disabilities, that opened 12 years ago on Sunset Lane in Ridgefield.

It also tells of Valerie Jensen, who moved to Ridgefield in 2002 and got involved volunteering with SPHERE’s annual theatrical production, and found that she “fell in love with the community, they became my closest friends.” Jensen ended up leading a series of SPHERE productions, moving from live shows to movies, and came to be a board member and chairwoman of the SPHERE board from 2004 to 2014.

“During this period, SPHERE members increased their participation in town events, including the Christmas tree lighting at town hall, the ROAR event in Ballard Green, and having a SPHERE float in the Memorial Day parade,” Edelman writes. “Rudy Marconi, Ridgefield’s first selectman, as well as other town officials and organizations, were always there to support and welcome SPHERE members’ participation.”

Jensen, whose sister Hope has Down syndrome, had “witnessed many acts of cruelty toward her sister because of her intellectual disability” during their school years, and came away with a “deep impression of the unfair duality of the world.”

Jensen founded the Prospector Theater in November 2014.

Edelman describes how in the last three years, with Lori Berisford’s leadership, SPHERE has continued to grow.

“SPHERE provides programs for over 60 adults with disabilities, four night classes and two afternoons of activities, and has become an increasingly visible presence in the Ridgefield community,” Edelman writes. “Art class, crafts and jewelry, music and performing arts are 12-month programs. Cooking classes at Ridgefield Academy run on the school calendar. Bingo at Ballard Green takes up Friday afternoons, and Walking Club’s Tuesday stroll up Main Street reminds our members to stay in shape and connect with their neighbors. …

“When family and community join together to help those who reside among them but need an extra hand to grow and flourish, then magic happens,” Edelman writes. “The Ridgefield community over the last three decades, its town officials, business community, educational, religious, and cultural bodies linked up to form a chain of kindness and heart which resulted in an enduring, vibrant organization that embraces all aspects of Ridgefield life.”