MERIDEN — Young entrepreneurs with disabilities filled the banquet hall at Il Monticello restaurant Thursday afternoon.
The event was organized by Street Smart Ventures as a way for young adults with mental health disabilities to connect with the community and offer their goods for sale or services, according to Anthony Pierlioni, a partner with the Hartford-based organization.
“So many of these kids have grown up in (foster care) and have never had typical entrepreneurial jobs like babysitting, mowing lawns, or running a lemonade stand,” said Britney Brewster, a partner with Street Smart Ventures.
Vendors set up booths to sell their handmade items or even to teach others a a skill. One vendor displayed her handmade jewelry and bath bombs, while another taught young students martial arts techniques.
Street Smart Ventures began hosting the event four years ago with funding provided by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Sarah Janes, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, was among the vendors present at the Street Smart Ventures event. The 24-year-old Manchester resident sells jewelry to memorialize her mother who passed away in 2008.
“My mother was a very talented jewelry-maker,” she said. “I do this in the memory of her.”
In addition to honoring her mother, Janes says the handcrafting is a way for her to cope with her struggles with autism. “It helps me with my stress and anxiety,” she said. “It draws my attention and keeps me focused.”
Pierlioni says he wants to provide young adults like Janes with an opportunity to display and earn revenue from activities they enjoy doing.
“We work with the staff to tap into these young peoples’ passions,” Pierlioni said.
According to Pierlioni, each of the vendors who present have the opportunity to earn money. Attendees of the event purchase tickets at $1 each. “This gets the money flowing right away, which is really encouraging for our entrepreneurs to see,” said Pierlioni. In addition the vendors are paid by Street Smart Ventures.
Street Smart Ventures is comprised of four staff members who partner with mental health agencies and non-profit organizations across Connecticut.
“They’re getting the confidence to do their thing, and come here and display it so they can get the experience and background here to go out and do this again in the future or in their workplace,” said Pierlioni.
Torry Bernard was referred to services offered by Pierlioni and Street Smart Ventures during her stay at InterCommunity Inc., a mental health clinic in East Hartford. In January of 2014, Bernard left her home in Maine for Connecticut.
“I just packed up and came down here with no plan,” said Bernard, who went for six months without a home after her move. “I struggled every day, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.” Bernard insists that the light she was hoping for finally did come when she checked into Hartford Hospital and later met partners from Street Smart Ventures and Advocacy Unlimited.
“They helped me figure out what I want to do career-wise,” Bernard said. She was referred to Advocacy Unlimited, a nonprofit program in New Britain designed to provide assistance for those in recovery. Now she works for AU as a coordinator of a “warm-line,” a non-emergency number clients can call for mental health services and resources.
“If I had had that help, I don’t think I would have gone through all of that struggle, so I definitely want to lend a helping hand,” Bernard said at the event.
According to Pierlioni, an estimated 185 people were in attendance at the event.
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