If you ask him what the hardest part of living independently has been so far, Brett Clemmer is quick to respond with his infamous “fire drill” story. Laughing as he recounts the event, Brett explains that he makes great pancakes, but “I do make a mess with it,” he admits. On one of his first nights living alone, Brett made pancakes as a snack before going to bed. Unfortunately, he left the stove on all night and the fire alarm went off. Brett slept through it. The next morning, when one of his independent living instructors, Liz Ortiz, came to check on him, she arrived to find his apartment full of smoke, alarms blaring. She also got quite a shock when she ran to Brett’s bedroom to check on him:
“I always sleep naked,” Brett laughs. “Now I have to wear a bathrobe. I’m learning,” he says. Learning is what it’s all about for Brett, one of the first graduates from Excentia’s TRAIL program, whose mission is “Teaching, Reaching, and Achieving Independent Living” for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
As a student in the program, Brett lived with a roommate, Ryan, in an apartment near Manor Shopping Center in Lancaster for 18 months. At first, the pair received 24-hour assistance, learning to support themselves using basic skills such as cooking, cleaning, budgeting, and taking public transportation. As their skills and confidence increased, their daily supervision decreased. The pair became more comfortable on their own, and started venturing out into the community.
“We did a great job together,” Brett notes. “He liked to play his Playstation, and I did e-mails all the time. We liked hanging out and watching movies down at Regal Cinemas and we went to Barnstormers games.” They also traveled to Lancaster Central Market to practice shopping: “I like the market because I like their egg sandwiches and fruits,” Brett says.
Both Brett and Ryan were able to learn the skills necessary to graduate from the TRAIL program in the required 18 months, after which Brett moved into his own apartment (where he now lives alone) only receiving a daily check-in from the Excentia staff. When asked if he enjoys living on his own, Brett’s pride is palpable. “I live by myself,” he beams, “doing my own thing. I chill, watch movies, do e-mails… I like living by myself. It’s fun.”
Another key component of the Excentia TRAIL program is employment. Graduates are expected to work and pay their own bills, and are taught extensive interviewing and vocational skills that help them secure jobs beyond the typical nontraditional, lowpaying duties reserved for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Brett, for example, has worked for Jones Honda and Devine Law Offices, LLC in Lancaster, helping to stuff envelopes and scan files. He currently works at Dunkin’ Donuts, a job which he loves.
“I like their coffee,” he reveals, “and tomorrow morning I get to make my own coffee. I get to try that.” Brett enjoys his job at Dunkin’ Donuts so much that he’s actually gone to his employer on his own, without prompting from his Excentia caseworkers, to ask for additional hours. He is also excited to help with a new business venture in Lancaster called Meraki Mocha, a farm-totable café specifically designed to help employ and empower adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Brett acknowledges that it feels good to make his own money. “I pay my own bills,” he explains, and then cracks his trademark grin. “More money—more bills,” he quips.
Nothing can compare to the self-esteem that comes from gaining his independence, but when asked about his favorite lessons learned from going through the TRAIL program (aside from keeping a bathrobe nearby in case of a fire drill), Brett mentions a few favorites: learning to ride the bus to his job in East Petersburg, learning to make his favorite dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, and learning to do his own laundry.
However, on that last item, he offers this advice: “You CANNOT put your cellphone in the washing machine.”