If you ever run into Elliott Paine, chances are you’re doing something really, really cool.
The 22-year-old might be out kayaking with the alligators near his hometown of Palm Bay. He might be wailing on a drum kit, head bobbing and channeling some Guns N’ Roses. He might be practicing for his upcoming DJ gig at a graduation party. Or if it’s a Wednesday night, he’ll be at improv class.
“It makes me feel great inside,” Elliott says of improv. “it makes me feel good about myself. I feel kind of like — welcomed.”
Elliott was born prematurely at 32 weeks; due to oxygen deprivation and seizures at birth, he has epilepsy and some learning disability. His mom, Sandi Paine, enrolled Elliott a couple years ago in a beginner improv group and watched his confidence blossom in a setting that was fast-paced yet nurturing. She wanted to spread that opportunity to other children and adults with cognitive disabilities, so she founded an improv nonprofit group called Blast Off Performing Arts. Now, Elliott helps his mom teach on Tuesdays.
Despite a plethora of enviable hobbies, Elliott does make time for work, too. He participates in a job training program, where his favorite job is picking up IV pumps at the local hospital. Work is one important step toward his eventual independence; another, Sandi says, is his ABLE United account. She saves there for Elliott’s “future-future needs,” knowing he can grow assets without jeopardizing his federal disability benefits.
“I always had so much resentment. It wasn’t enough to be disabled in America, you also had to be poor,” she said. “When this vehicle came around, how could you not do it? It’s a no-brainer.”
Sandi said that her only regret about ABLE United is that they don’t make enough money to max out his contributions every year. “But we will someday,” she said. “I tell everybody about ABLE United. You’d be amazed at how many people still don’t know about it. It’s a great program, and I’m really grateful to have it.”