Angela Lucas, founder and director of Hangout One Happy Place, said she’s shocked yet grateful that the group will reach a milestone anniversary next month.
Hangout, a nonprofit organization based in Baldwin that helps young adults with all abilities, such as autism, is turning five on Feb. 18. The organization has not only been a second home for the children, teens and adults who use it, but also for community members who need a place to find happiness.
Lucas recently recalled the group’s origins, adding that it was created by love.
Before launching the organization, Lucas worked at Independent Support Services, which “delivers individual supports to people who have developmental disabilities,” according to ISSNY.org. That’s where she met George, who was diagnosed with autism, didn’t have a family, and had a difficult time fitting in.
“I got transferred to Baldwin High School,” Lucas said, “and Naseem (a student who) was sitting in the cafeteria said, ‘Ms. Lucas, let’s have a Valentine’s Day dance.’ So the two worlds, the Independent Support Services for George and the school world, collided.”
At Baldwin High School, Lucas was first a lunch monitor, then as a teacher’s aide, eventually working with children with more severe disabilities.
At the dance, Lucas saw how she created an environment in which George could be comfortable, sparking the idea to create an organization where young adults can visit and be themselves.
“This wasn’t something that was even supposed to happen,” Lucas said. “It was created by love.”
The dance led Lucas to host a group at the Baldwin Public Library twice a month in 2019, and then to run a program in a room at the South Baldwin Jewish Center two years later. Initially, the organization met twice a week, but that has turned into six days a week.
“They’ve embraced us, they love us, and they gave us the opportunity to grow with the happiness,” Lucas said about the Jewish center.
Hangout’s five-year anniversary celebration will take place at the Jewish center’s ballroom on Feb. 18, with The Lido Kosher Deli catering the event.
Just when Lucas was finding her footing with the new organization, the coronavirus pandemic struck, but Covid has made Hangout even stronger, she said.
“Covid made us,” Lucas said. “In that summer of Covid, the parks were opening up, and I got a permit to host events at Baldwin Park.”
Lucas explained that people were looking for fun and safe things to do during the pandemic. Seeing her advertisements on social media, community members would attend Hangout’s events.
Lucas mentioned some of the many individuals, businesses and groups that shared their appreciation for the organization. One such business is the Irish Pub in Baldwin, which hosted Pub Palooza — a cornhole fundraiser for Lucas — in October. Lucas said she was amazed by the generosity that pub owner Shawn Sabel showed for her organization.
“To be able to make this enjoyable environment where the kids can be themselves, this is how the world should be,” Lucas said.
Lucas also recalled how Pat’s Dance Studio allowed Hangout members to sing at its annual “Deck the Halls” event last month. She said it was “beautiful” how the parents, kids and the studio embraced the Hangout members.
Lucas said that when she started the organization, she didn’t know about ledgers or how to host fundraisers. However, the community helped her get her nonprofit off the ground.
“You ask, and they shall help,” Lucas said about community members.
Lucas is still improving her organization after five years, recently creating a board with an accountant, secretary and special education teacher.
“I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, would think we would be where we are today,” Lucas said about Hangout. “I’m still learning as I go.”
One goal that Lucas holds is for members to manufacture their own product. She said she believes it would be great for them to have something that is their own to sell.
Lucas said she is happy to have a platform where she can make a huge difference in other people’s lives.
“All I can say is, it’s like I’m living a dream,” Lucas said. “And it’s a happy dream.”