EWING — A group unlike any other in the country has formed in Mercer County in response to a developmentally-disabled man who was struggling to admit he is gay.

The hope is that sometime soon the program will become a model for other counties and states.

Realizing a specific group of people had no outlet for support, Arc Mercer launched Special Needs Alliance for Pride (SNAP), an LGBTQ community for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to Steve Cook, Arc Mercer's executive director, integration into the community is one of the major keys to success for those with special needs. This integration may become even more difficult, without the right help, for those who recently came out and/or would prefer to participate in LGBTQ activities or groups from time to time.

To get the initiative up and running, Cook and his colleagues identified a local group that hosts a monthly meeting for the LGBTQ community. Working towards that goal of integration, Arc Mercer's special needs clients have the opportunity to mingle with non-disabled individuals.

Arc Mercer

"The key is to find ways for them to make relationships outside of their own special needs world, in the community, for them to truly experience the highest quality of life possible," Cook told New Jersey 101.5.

SNAP has teamed up with a handful of gay-straight alliances at local high schools and colleges. Through their buddy system, students take Arc's consumers into the community and can teach others how to appropriately interact with disabled individuals.

Arc Mercer also conducts individual and group counseling for its special needs LGBTQ members.

Ray Truitt, whose struggles with communicating his sexuality served as the inspiration for SNAP, is a founding member of the one-of-a-kind group. Truitt reminded Cook of his own struggles years ago, and the idea was born.

“I know first-hand how hard it can be. As a member of SNAP, I am in a position to be able to be a help to others, to provide that kind of support I could have used," Truitt said when the group launched in June.

Cook said "more and more people" are attending meetings on a monthly basis, and once the SNAP model is fully established, Arc Mercer will aim to offer the model to other counties and states at no charge.

Interested in SNAP? Call 609-743-3327 or email snapclub@arcmercer.org.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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