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Bowling group provides winter social activity, opportunity for personal growth


CAPTION: Ernest Francis prepares to bowl a frame at Lucky Strike Lanes in Malone.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the clatter of bowling pins and claps of high fives filled Lucky Strike Lanes in Malone as an assembly of bowlers supported by Citizen Advocates came together for an afternoon of fun and fellowship.

More than a year ago, a group of direct support professionals began bringing those they support to Lucky Strike Lanes for a weekly outing. Through word of mouth the group has grown to include clients from a variety of Citizen Advocates’ programs, along with friends and family members from the community who share an appreciation for bowling and camaraderie. Most weeks more than a dozen bowlers attend.

“What’s wonderful about this group is that it’s not just skill building, socials club or one of our Community Living residences participating,” said Citizen Advocates’ Director of Community Supports Lori Burke. “Individuals from all those programs are coming together and making connections they otherwise might not have made.”

An informal group, the bowling club has no leader or official name. Though, the ringleader is usually Ernest Francis, who bounces from lane to lane to cheer others on and dole out high fives.

“I love hanging out with my friends,” Mr. Francis said, adding that he’s made many new friends through the Wednesday group.

Mr. Francis is a regular at Lucky Strike Lanes, bowling in a league outside of the Wednesday afternoon get-togethers. The Wednesday group includes bowlers of all skill levels with lanes grouped to match abilities, use of bumpers and speed of play.

“Everyone looks forward to Wednesdays,” said direct support professional Mary Perry, who accompanies individuals she supports to the lanes. “It’s a real highlight of the week.”

The staff at Lucky Strike have been more than welcoming to the group, providing savings and accommodations that make the outings affordable for those on a limited budget and more enjoyable for those with different abilities.

“In the winter, it can be easy to stay inside,” said Citizen Advocates’ Senior Director of Operations Brady Dullea. “This group has gotten people out of their houses and into the community. It’s exactly the kind of person-centered care we seek to provide and a testament to the power of self-advocacy by participants to build this community from scratch.”

In today’s sometimes fractured world, bowling alleys provide a unique space where people from all walks of life can come together and share a few hours of community. Citizen Advocates’ occupational therapist Kelly Langdon saw that firsthand after first learning about the group from a co-worker.

“At first, I was there to facilitate and make introductions for my occupational therapy clients, but after a few weeks they didn’t really need me,” she said. “They’d made friends.”