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Brooklyn Street Combines Cooperation, Community

Take a walk through the Brooklyn Street neighborhood in North Adams, MA, and you’ll see a cooperative community at work. A neighbor might be using the street’s shared mower to trim a lawn. You might hear a band comprised of a resident and a neighborhood shared living provider playing music together. A local grocery store worker might be walking to start her shift. A Williams College Professor who lives in the neighborhood might be cleaning up a local stream with students from the nearby Mass College of Liberal Arts.

Mary Lou Accetta might be reading books from the community lending library to a 4-year-old on a porch. Her son Melvin might be collecting neighbors’ trash and bringing it to a landfill.

Brooklyn Street is an “intentional community:” a neighborhood designed for cooperation and cohesion, where people of all abilities can form lifelong bonds through shared spaces, tasks, and meals. Described as “an ideal balance of privacy and community,” Brooklyn Street strives to be safe, sustainable, and rewarding for residents. 

Neighbors know each other well, and can choose to socialize over home-cooked meals, or shared activities in a common house. Residents, their family and friends are life-long members of the community, where neighbors live sustainably after renovating or building wisely.

Brooklyn Street started as a small group of parents seeking new ways to support their adult children with disabilities. Some of them were living at home, while some were languishing in group homes.  “An institution by any other name is still an institution,” Accetta says. “We wanted our guys to be part of the larger community.”

Although many of the residents of Brooklyn street today have disabilities, the community strives for inclusivity for all, regardless of disability. “Brooklyn Street is not about people with disabilities—it’s multi-generational,” Accetta says. “It’s about realizing that everyone has something to bring to the table. What really makes Brooklyn Street special is every individual who’s on it.” 

That said, the neighborhood welcomes and supports people with special needs; several of its residents are served by Nonotuck. Nonotuck CEO/President George H. Fleischner serves on Brooklyn Street’s advisory committee and has supported the initiative almost from its inception. “Nonotuck and George supported us every step of the way. He helped us to clarify what we want. We have a wonderful balance of autonomy and accountability,” Accetta says. “Everything we do is true to Nonotuck values.”

As Accetta puts it, every parent of a child with disabilities is always thinking about the future: how to ensure their child is cared for in a sustainable manner after they’re gone. That mindfulness extends to Brooklyn Street’s long-term operational philosophy. “One of our goals at Brooklyn Street is longevity, sustainability,” she says. “With Nonotuck’s help, we hope to make that happen. There are people on this street with special challenges who want to make this their lifelong home.” 

“We see this as something that will continue beyond us,” she says.

“(Through shared living) people with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

Caregiving with Love:
Guide for Shared Living Providers

Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.

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