For Tom Belancio, being part of the Mission Project has meant going from being isolated to “real happiness,” according to his brother, Michael.
“He’s got friends again, he’s got activities to fill his time again,” Michael says. “Tom continues to amaze me at what he can accomplish. It’s more than I ever could have asked for.” The Mission Project, which means so much to Tom and Michael, is a community support program based in Mission where the participants, who have developmental or cognitive disabilities, live independently in their own apartments, but form a community together.
Tom had been living with his mother in Philadelphia and had lost a sense of community after his school was over. Michael, who has been here since 1998, heard about the Mission Project and first brought Tom out to live with him. Tom became a “friend” of the program and after nine months moved into his own apartment and became a full member. Now, Tom has a job at Mission MedVet and a full range of activities and friends.
“He is happy and independent,” Michael says. “He has his own place and he gets to call the shots – and he’s taken the responsibility.” The apartment arrangement is not a group home, Michael points out, but it is a “critical mass of peers.” The exercise programs and healthy living for participants make the Sylvester Powell Community Center integral to the program. “The City of Mission has been great to us,” Michael says.
Tom is actually a member of Mission Project 2, a sister program that shares in Mission Project programs but has a separate board where Michael is president. It now has nine members and three friends. A new activity for the project is creating a community garden, with the city’s blessing, on a patch of empty and blighted city-owned land near the apartments. Members have been clearing and rehabbing the space this year to get it ready for planting next season.
Because of the Mission Project, Tom is happy and independent and Michael is “feeling secure” about his brother’s future. “ This program is a godsend.”