Each Wednesday night last fall, a group of six Guild adult residents cleared out their schedules and logged onto Zoom at 5 p.m. sharp. They would spend the next hour in lively discussion talking about relationships with employers, family members, romantic partners, and themselves. The group was part of The Guild’s Healthy Relationships course, designed by Elevatus Training.

The class, led by Estella Ngufor, Walpole House Manager, and Junior Paris, Dedham House Manager, followed a curriculum that aimed to empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to build self-confidence and maintain healthy relationships. The course covered how to engage in appropriate interactions within different types of relationships; the importance of consent; the difference between private and public settings; parenting responsibilities; and more.

“We wanted course graduates to be confident in themselves and how they interact with other people,” says Estella. “The engagement of the group was just awesome. It exceeded our expectations.”

“I think it’s important to know about things like this, and it can help in a lot of different types of relationships. I liked getting to hear other people’s perspectives in the class,” says Dylan B., resident with Dedham House and participant in the course.

Elevatus is an organization that aims to empower, motivate, and educate self-advocates, professionals, and parents. They believe that talking openly about sexuality will enable people with developmental disabilities to lead sexually healthy lives. The course curriculum strongly emphasizes the importance of self-advocacy and self-sufficiency in making informed, thoughtful decisions within relationships.

“We wanted participants to have respect for their own body and to be proud of those they care about. The course was very intensive,” says Junior.

Estella adds that the course sought to instill that everyone, regardless of ability, can lead a fulfilling sexual life – especially given that most general sex education courses overlook how those with intellectual and developmental disabilities can embrace their sexuality. “Whether you have a disability or not, you can be a sexual being. That’s one of the things we wanted the participants to know,” she says.

Participants celebrated their completion of the Elevatus Healthy Relationships course earlier this month with a graduation ceremony.