Denise Potter’s autistic daughter, Kayla, is non-verbal.
But that doesn’t stop the 19-year-old from grabbing the mic during Karaoke night at the Dew Drop Inn — a place where children, teens and adults with special needs get to party in Patchogue.
Kayla’s not alone in her love for song and dance night Saturdays.
“A lot of them will just grab the mic,” Potter said. “And whether they make a sound or not, we all go along with it and everyone has a great time. We dance, we sing. It’s just a wonderful place.”
Formerly Allison’s Gathering Place, the business at 100 Austin Street in Patchogue was taken over this fall by Bob Mongillo, a deacon at St. Francis de Sales Church, and his wife, Barbara, a registered nurse.
Located in a small office park just south of Sunrise Highway, the suite is stocked with puzzles, board games and Nintendo Wii’s, and outfitted with a dance floor and disco ball.
“My son Joe, who’s now 16 years old, used to come here,” said Bob Mongillo, “He came every Saturday night, and then I would volunteer every other Saturday.”
The Mongillos have 24 children in total, 6 of which are biological, and another 18 who are adopted and have special needs. (Six of the 18 children are in wheelchairs.)
The couple took over the business because they couldn’t bear to lose such a valuable local resource for people and families within the special needs communities.
“There’s so many programs out there for children with all abilities,” said Bob Mongillo. “But there isn’t much to offer socially for them; never a chance for them to just be themselves, to hang out with each other. Just be in each other’s company. That was the original concept.”
After taking over Allison’s Gathering Place, the Mongillos renamed the space Dew Drop Inn — for a cozy, welcoming feel — and have rapidly expanded its offerings from once a week.
They are now running programs four nights each week.
Monday is Zumba night for anyone 5 years and up.
Wednesday night is pizza and puzzles — again, 5 and up.
The first and third Friday of each month is for 9 to 13 year olds.
The second and fourth Fridays are for group home use.
Every Saturday is the dancing and Karaoke night for all ages and abilities, 14 and up.
It’s $20 for Saturday night and $15 all other nights, but the Mongillos understand there’s no money to be made through the Dew Drop Inn. The hope is to keep the place up and operating.
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Volunteers like Denise Potter of Holbrook are an important part of that process.
They’re happy to help.
“We make every kid feel comfortable,” Potter said. “If someone is upset, Bob is always right here and within 5 minutes they’re up and playing games, doing puzzles or whatever. We all understand the kids. Everybody leaves with a smile on their face and exciting for next week.”
Dew Drop Inn will also book local experts to talk to the group briefly each Saturday, such as a pediatrician to discuss healthy living.
The parents are free to stay or leave for the night, “it doesn’t matter to us,” Mongillo said.
The focus is always on the attendees, and getting them interacting.
“Even with the Wiis,” he said. “A lot of these kids have video games at home but they might not be playing with other people. Here they’re sharing and taking turns.”
And, they’re making friends.
For the Mongillos and volunteers, that’s where the magic lies.
“They only way I can explain it, is this:” said Bob Mongillo, “When someone isn’t here the others will ask, where they are? They miss them. And that’s amazing.”
“They just love to have a good time,” he added, “that’s intrinsic in all of us.”
Top Photo: Kristen Castellano Luke Blanton and Ryan Li at the Drew Drop Inn. (courtesy)