Ask anyone who attended American Training’s Celebrate Good Times Gala what their favorite part of the formal evening was and you’ll get the same answer every time – the ear-to-ear smiles on the beaming Guests.
“It was really a feel good night, seeing everyone dancing and just the pure happiness. It was just a room filled with happy people,” said Carole Giordano, Licensing Coordinator for LARE Institute, another branch of American Training. “It was nice to see a night dedicated to our Guests.”
With eyes wide with excitement and faces expressing joy and contentment, American Training’s Guests, or adults with disabilities, soaked up every moment of the gala, a celebration of their efforts, successes, and their lives, held May 16 at the Andover Country Club.
“It was so nice to see so many Guests who don’t attend American Training come to celebrate with their friends,” said Gail Roberts, Vice President and Director of Day Services. “And a lot of family members were thrilled to see their loved ones interacting in such a positive way.
“They had a great time.”
The second annual Celebrate Good Times Gala was London-themed featuring decorations including a Union Jack balloon wall, the Tower of Yumdon, a 3-foot tower of cupcakes to rival the Tower of London, and a London Bridge.
Visits from favorite British celebrities and characters like Elton John, Harry Potter, Austin Powers, James Bond and his Bond Girls, the Queen, and the Spice Girls added to the evening filled with music from 4EverFab, a local Beatles tribute band, and NRG Entertainment’s disc jockey.
Jodi Howshan, American Training’s Director of Professional Development said she was impressed both in the efforts by Colleagues to make the event so impactful for the Guests and in the amount of joy expressed by the Guests that evening.
“I saw women wearing fancy dresses with their nails done and hair styled and men in suits and ties or bowties,” said Howshan. “They all looked so beautiful and handsome.”
Roberts added, “For our Guests to have the opportunity to get dressed up, go to an event like this at the Country Club with their families, and have a nice dinner, is just wonderful.”
Guest Crystal White, 30, said she swapped her regular “comfortable” clothes for a long purple gown that night, because, “I just wanted to dress up for one day. I wanted to look fancy for my friends.”
White, who typically wears oversized t-shirts and baseball caps covering her short blonde hair, looked stunning in her dress and long flowing hair.
“It made me feel beautiful,” she said.
Fellow Guest Margarita Rios, 58, said she too felt beautiful that evening in her long red gown and sparkling jewelry.
Rios shined as she accepted the 2014 Good Citizenship Award for her dedication to serving others and her community.
“I was so impressed with how much she gives back to the community,” said Howshan. “She doesn’t let anything hold her back.”
Rios received the prestigious award after spending the past year, and many before that, spreading joy to her community through various acts like last December when she asked her friends to perform acts of kindness in place of gifts for her birthday. She threw a party a few weeks later and asked them to share the details of those good deeds.
“She loves when people do good things. She just lights up when she hears about it,” said Hiedi Keefer, Asst. Director of Specialized Housing for American Training, who works directly with Rios.
In April, Rios led a team in cleaning up her church’s parking lot. Then, later that month, she bought balloons and delivered them to Boston’s Children’s Hospital to cheer up the little ones.
“I like doing it,” she said. “I like to help and I want people to be happy.”
“She really has the biggest heart,” Keefer added.
Rios was awarded along with eleven more Guests, who received employment awards for remaining competitively employed for five or more years with the same company. The recipients were Tim Scanlon of University Cap and Gown, Luis Hincapie of Papa Gino’s, Beverly Oakes of St. Michael’s School, Linda Hinckley of Harrison’s, Victor Sanchez and Sean Valentine of AXI, Robert Twarhog of Marshalls, Frank Bekkenhuis of Target, Florence Durkee and R. Michael O’Connor of Chili’s, and Moises Caraballo of Market Basket.
“I felt happy,” said Hinckley, who has been with Harrison’s for more than 10 years, of receiving her award.
Hinckley also works at American Training and Chunky’s Cinema Restaurant and said she likes that her three jobs keep her busy.
Caraballo also said he felt proud receiving his award. He said he enjoys working at Market Basket because he knows the job and it gives him independence.
“Our Guests work hard to accomplish all that they do and we want to recognize them for their hard work and achievements,” said President and CEO Tom Connors. “This night serves not only as an opportunity for them to receive the recognition that they deserve, but also as an evening for them to be themselves, reflect on their accomplishments over the past year, and enjoy the moment with their families and friends.”
More than 320 people attended the London-themed event which featured a delicious meal, a live band, a photo booth, and lots of dancing for the Guests, their friends and loved ones, and American Training Colleagues.
“I liked the band and the DJ. I just love music,” said Guest Michael James, 34, who attended the event with his parents and a few former coworkers. He said everyone enjoyed themselves and his father, who grew up in England, appreciated the London-themed features.
“Our Guests had a great time and it was great to see the smiles on their faces and the joy while they were dancing,” said Roberts.
The Good Times Gala is one of many annual events American Training holds for their Guests. To find out more about American Training, or any of its branches including Day Services, Specialized Housing or LARE Institute, go to www.AmericanTrainingInc.com.
American Training, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that has been delivering premier, award-winning workforce development, day habilitation, and work and residential programs since 1979. Our dedicated and passionate family of colleagues compliments these programs with some of the region’s most dynamic support services in the areas of transportation, counseling, work-preparedness seminars, and advocacy. We serve hundreds of residents, including people with disabilities, youth, youth-at-risk, the unemployed, underemployed, lifelong adult learners, and those looking to get the most out of life. Our services extend across many cities and towns in the Greater Merrimack Valley area and beyond. We are recognized for our WOW! Philosophy, which describes the fun and entertainment we incorporate in our activities, while always acknowledging dignity and respect for each person. As a company, American Training is fully committed to bringing out the best in everyone we touch by using proven methods leading to lives that are fuller and more meaningful.