Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
IRI honors senior companions at Independence Café
  • By Emily Davenport
  • /
  • Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017
  • /
  • 02:47 PM UTC


Independence Café was the setting for a celebration on April 12 when IRI, a Queens-based nonprofit, honored five seniors who have volunteered for the past year as companions to residents at two Day Habilitation programs that IRI operates in Brooklyn.

The program was initiated by the Brooklyn bureau of the Office For People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which presented IRI with the idea of sending Senior Companions to IRI’s Day Hab centers.  Day Hab gives individuals with developmental disabilities opportunities to participate in activities that help them build relationships in the community and learn new skills.

IRI supported the idea, and five Senior Companions began spending four or five hours, four days a week, with Day Hab participants. Activities ranged from working on arts and crafts to reading together to going on group outings to the mall, library or a museum.

“This program is about the importance and beauty of human connection,” said Raymond J. DeNatale, Executive Director of IRI. “Individuals attending Day Hab gained an opportunity to interact with Senior Companions who brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to these new relationships.”

Despite rain and snow, the Senior Companions showed up reliably.  On the occasion when a volunteer couldn’t attend, DeNatale said they were missed by the participants.

For Senior Companions, the volunteer experience is found to be gratifying, giving them a chance to give back to the community.  Most of the volunteers have worked with people with disabilities in the past.  Some have been volunteering for several years.

At the luncheon, the Senior Companions received framed certificates acknowledging their year of service.  The event was held, appropriately, at Independence Café, located at 94-16 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven.  IRI opened the café in 2011 to provide job training and experience to individuals with developmental disabilities, as part of its mission to help people with complex needs lead full, rewarding lives.

Today the agency provides a wide range of services to some 1,600 individuals each year.

“We are grateful to the OPWDD in Brooklyn for providing this great opportunity to welcome Senior Companions into our Day Habs,” DeNatale said.  “We hope this luncheon will turn into an annual event, as we look forward to another year of relationship-building that benefits the individuals who need our support and attention the most.”

IRI is Innovative Resources for Independence, an award-winning nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities to live meaningful lives, integrated in society, empowered by their abilities. IRI listens to each person and their family, and with them, creates individualized supports that allow them to live, work, participate in the community, and maintain good health. The Queens-based agency was founded in 1984 by parents concerned about the well-being of their children. Operating 24/7, IRI offers Residential, Family Support, Employment and Day Services, Medicaid Service Coordination, Crisis Prevention and Intervention, and Self Advocacy Groups.