If your heart could use a little warming on these chilly October days, the Northville-based Living & Learning Enrichment Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities, has just the remedy for you.
Keya Mirani, a 25-year-old woman with autism who, with the love of her family and the L&LEC’s guidance, has achieved meaningful employment, independent housing, and a newfound sense of belonging within the community.
Mirani’s journey began in Mumbai, India, where she was born. After spending her childhood in Colorado, Keya attended college in Florida, completed a semester abroad in Spain and worked there for two years before eventually returning to her family in Mumbai as a young adult.
Throughout her journey she encountered many challenges due to a learning disability, characterized by slower information processing speed, difficulty with social interactions, and a struggle with more abstract concepts.
Struggling to find her place
Her mother, Christina Mirani, who was also living in India, watched as her daughter struggled to find her place and shared these concerns about Keya’s future with her family.
They discovered the Living & Learning Enrichment Center, which offered job placement services, social programs, and wrap-around support tailored to individuals with disabilities.
Christina’s sister, who was at the time living in Northville, learned about the Center and nudged Christina to explore this opportunity, despite the geographical distance, which totaled almost 8,000 miles.
Christina shared, “I honestly mainly dismissed thinking about it as a real possibility because we were so far away, and I couldn’t imagine the logistics of making it work.”
A supportive community beckons
Keya moved from bustling Mumbai, a city of approximately 20 million, and a joint family housing environment which included 4 generations, and 16 people between the ages of 3 and 84, to Northville, embarking on an international voyage of hope and transformation.
Initially, the decision to relocate Keya seemed daunting, but an instant connection to the organization’s founder, Rachelle Vartanian, and other staff over a simple Zoom meeting, and the promise of a supportive community and specialized programs at Living & Learning Enrichment Center brought newfound optimism.
Mirani went on to share: “I almost immediately felt at home and that I didn’t need to explain everything about Keya and pull out my cheat sheet so people could understand her.
“When my sister sent me the description of what the job counselors do, I almost started crying because it was like a step-by-step of all the things that I used to think in my head that I needed to do for Keya, but didn’t know how to do, didn’t have the connections, and after so much time and struggle didn’t have the energy to do.
“I felt such relief to have a partner in this next step, but most importantly a partner that really understands the scaffolding and support needed for success.
“I really felt hope and pride for Keya through my interactions with all the staff members…that Keya could be herself and I could be relaxed. I decided even though I was really scared and there seemed to be insurmountable hurdles, I began to have hope about what could be possible and took this huge leap of faith.”
Upon arrival, Keya began participating in art classes and social programs, gradually acclimating to her new environment. Her experiences were positively marked by the warm, caring staff and a community that wholeheartedly seemed to embrace the Center’s mission.
Lifeline for families seeking independence
For Christina Mirani, transitioning Keya to Northville over the course of only three short months signified the start of a promising new chapter for her daughter.
The Center provided her with guidance, job placement services, and a support system that eased her concerns about Keya’s future. Through individualized programs that match her interests like Girl Talk and painting classes, Keya is finding new opportunities for personal growth and friendship.
She likes puttering around her very own kitchen on weekends and has even joined a local chorale group that she enjoys very much.
The Mirani family’s courageous leap of faith has paid off, with Keya now enjoying a fulfilling life, complete with meaningful employment at an area Psychology and Psychiatric Center, independence, and a burgeoning sense of belonging.
Christina expresses her gratitude for the community of Northville as well: “I was instantly struck by the incredible support. As I got to know a few ladies by doing yoga at the Community Center, I would explain why I was there. The response from everyone about the Living and Learning Enrichment Center was so heartening, and so many people had a story to tell and a personal connection. I felt that there is such pride in the community about the Center that it made me feel comfortable, welcome, and happy.
“Literally on my last day, a couple of ladies I met assured me that I have a community now here in Northville, and at once I felt this incredible sense of peace that Keya is settled in a really great place with a lot of good people around her.”
Thanks to Jennifer Provenzano for contributing this amazing story to SocialHouseNews.com.