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Sunday, September 23 Real Estate

At Norwalk’s STAR, home is family

NORWALK — The rooms at Stoler House tell a lot about the people who live in them.

The first thing one would notice when looking at Stephen Denittis’ room is that he is a big New York Yankees fan.

The 66-year-old man has more than a dozen baseball caps hanging on his bedroom walls, along with posters of players from the team and of Yankee Stadium. Stacks of baseball cards are also kept neatly in front of the small TV on his dresser, near a plush baseball pillow signed by his friends.

“I used to live in New York, but it’s so noisy day and night, and all the traffic,” Denittis said while standing in his room. “Do you know how many yellow taxi cabs stake out? Thirteen thousand yellow taxi cabs.”

Denittis lives in a single-floor home at 186 Wolfpit Ave. with six roommates, who like him have some kind of disability.

Bill Ray Davis’ room is on the other side of the home, with fewer sports items and more musical instruments. A drum rests on a table near a window facing the garden, in the corner of his room where the 67-year-old man likes to play his guitar and give mini concerts.

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When the two are not in their rooms or participating in activities next door, they help clean around the house or help cook their meals with house manager Sharon Williams.

“Basically everyone here is part of a unit. It’s a family. So it’s treated like that,” Williams said. “We don’t see it as staff and clients, even though that’s what it is. It has to be a closer connection.”

The feeling of family and the freedom to do what he wants are two aspects that Nick Ippolito likes most about living in another group home at Old Lantern Place.

In his room are a collection stuffed animals, sports trophies, newspaper clippings and ribbons from New Canaan Mounted Troop, where he rides horses. He also has a bookshelf that he keeps neat and tidy. If one book happened to be misplaced, he would know right away.

The 32-year-old man has lived at the house for seven years now, he said, and has four roommates.

“I love it,” Ippolito said with a smile. “My housemates.”

The two houses are part of the 18 residential spaces supported by STAR, Inc., a Norwalk-based nonprofit that offers services to more than 500 people with disabilities and their families who live in Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton.

The homes and condominiums are meant to integrate and include adults with disabilities into the community, said Peter Saverine, the nonprofit’s director of philosophy. The living spaces also need to meet the standards of the state Development Services Department.

“We’re very sensitive about maintaining the property and parking and just being good neighbors. And most of our neighborhoods, they know who we are and are very nice neighbors and are very supportive,” Saverine said. “We really just blend with the rest of the group and try to keep our houses pretty and safe.”

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Such housing is in high demand at STAR, Saverine said, but many remain on the waiting list due to a lack of state funding.

This need represents an issue affecting people with disabilities and families across the state. Thousands are on the waiting list and hundreds are on the emergency list, according to Katie Banzhaf, STAR’s executive director.

“The only people we can look at that have funding are people who are on the emergency list,” Banzhaf said. “We’re trying to get that changed.”

skim@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2568; @stephaniehnkim

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