Maximizing the Potential of Adults with Disabilities

The idea for “Lucia’s Pillows,” a shop, came to its namesake one night in a dream. In the dream, Lucia, an adult with intellectual disabilities, was making beautiful pillows and selling them. People loved her pillows. Each unique creation featured one of her original drawings, embroidered and embellished with colorful yarn. The dream was the perfect image of Lucia’s passions: drawing, embroidery, and sewing. Lucia is a born artist, and throughout her life has found many outlets for her creativity. Whether she is drawing, painting, or sewing, it all comes very naturally to her. But being a businesswoman had never occurred to Lucia, until she had the dream.

Where would the dream lead?

The dream inspired Lucia to open an online shop for her pillows. Turning the dream into reality took mere months, with the help of  a supported employment specialist from the Center for Creative Works, a division of Resources for Human Development.

Lucia now has a thriving business at If you look at her site today, you will see pillows depicting her favorite subjects: Harry Potter, country singers and glittering stars. Sales have been brisk, and Lucia says she will never run out of new pillow ideas.

Programs Serving Intellectually Disabled Adults

The Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence, a division of Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, help people like Lucia achieve their maximum potential.  They provide supported living programs serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The public often underestimates the potential of people with intellectual disabilities.  Based on the teachings of Don Guanella and following the loving example of Jesus, The Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence embrace persons with intellectual disabilities with support services, and professional, compassionate care.

Who was Don Guanella?

Luigi Guanella, born in Italy in 1842, entered the seminary at the age of 12 and was ordained in 1866. He spent many years of his religious life caring for homeless children. His work led him to develop a program of rehabilitation for boys and girls rejected by society because of their physical and mental disabilities.

Like Lucia, Fr. Guanella was a dreamer. His dream was to further acceptance of marginalized and ostracized members of society. He faced opposition at every turn. His writings and sermons drew criticism from civil authorities, self-appointed experts and society’s elite. But he persevered, and today, thousands of people have received the loving, tender care, and acceptance he preached about.

Don Guanella called people with disabilities “good children” referring to their childlike, guileless innocence. He believed they were blessings from God in our lives, and their differences should not separate them from our love and attention.

The Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence

The community homes, residential facilities and day programs inspired by the teachings of Guanella are designed to maximize individual potential, provide for interaction among peers, and provide life skills. The people who serve individuals with disabilities through Catholic Social Services are responding to Don Guanella’s assertion that God loves all his children unconditionally, especially the “least ones”. He advised his followers to see the face of Christ in these “least ones”.

The fulfillment of the mission of Don Guanella takes many forms, each responding to the complex needs of people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and their families. Facilities and centers are located throughout the five-county area in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Residential Homes, Community Homes, Life Sharing Through Family Living, Day Programs and Respite Care form the modern-day version of the network of support that Don Guanella envisioned so many years ago.

Lucia’s dreams won’t stop at pillows. She is interested in fashion and clothing design. And now that she is an on-line seller, there is no telling what she can do with those skills. Her participation in the programs offered by Catholic Social Services have provided her with a safe, caring, supportive environment. She was able to meet new people, learn new skills, and dream about her future, and make those dreams a reality. She is a thoroughly modern woman participating in the global economy. Don Guanella would be proud of her. And not at all surprised.

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Amy Adams
Creative Student

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