Strutting toward happy
An autistic man's dream come true: He'll be a Mummer.
Doug Hoffman had wondered what it would be like to be part of the Mummers Parade.
On New Year's Day, he watched the live coverage of Mummers strutting up Broad Street, and marveled at the pageantry - the joyous music and choreography, comic performances, the elaborate suits with their glitter and sequins.
Hoffman never thought he'd actually have a chance to actually join in.
But as a resident of the Bancroft Lakeside Campus in Mullica Hill, where he's in a program for autistic adults, he met a retired member of the Golden Sunrise Fancy Club and posed a question: "Can you make me a Mummer?"
Soon, Hoffman was strutting toward his dream.
"He pulled me out of retirement," said Dennis Clark, a maintenance technician at the campus, which supports adults with autism and other intellectual disabilities in residential and day vocational programs. "He told me he liked the Mummers dance and I said, 'Mummers don't dance, they strut.'
"We took him [to the club in Philadelphia] and his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree at Wanamakers," said Clark, 58, of West Deptford. "He was just overwhelmed."
That visit this year cinched it.
Clark, a Mummer from childhood until 2008, decided to take part in the parade one last time to facilitate Hoffman's debut as a member of the Golden Sunrise Fancy Club.
"I like the costumes and dressing up. . . . It's fun," said Hoffman, 23, a Bancroft resident who has bowled in Special Olympics and is training to be a certified Rutgers master gardener.
Social and outgoing, he will be practicing his parade routine at Bancroft and at the Golden Sunrise clubhouse near Second and Greenwich Streets in South Philadelphia, where he will be fitted for his costume.
Joining Hoffman and Clark as the third member of a performing trio will be Chris Ilconich, clinical manager at Bancroft Lakeside, which provides programs for about 50 residents.
"For Doug, this was pretty much a perfect fit," said Ilconich. "He loves music and dancing; he makes up his own songs and is very creative. ...
"If you know one person with autism, you only know one person with autism," he said. "Each person operates on their own level."
About half of the campus residents can handle some elevated levels of stimulation, Ilconich said.
"There are people who are like Doug and then get overstimulated," he said. "I feel there are less individuals in the spectrum who can handle extreme situations like" the Mummers Parade.
Hoffman's request "really surprised" his mother, Dawn Jurkiewicz, 55, of Pitman, who wondered "how the stimulation would affect him.
"But he has done other things, like go to a rock concert," said Jurkiewicz. "He's not withdrawn; he happens to be very gregarious.
"He likes to try new things," she said. "He doesn't read a lot but he absorbs things."
Jurkiewicz, instrumental music and band director at J. Mason Tomlin Elementary School in Mantua Township, Gloucester County, said she was pleased that her son would have the experience of taking part in the New Year's Day tradition.
"It's very kind of the staff to allow him to have this opportunity," she said. "It's a significant time investment on their part."
Hoffman will be part of a performance dubbed "Country Jubilee," accompanied by John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," Clark said.
From 50 to 60 members of Golden Sunrise will wear colorful suits and pull small scarecrow floats. The cost to outfit each person is about $1,500, borne by the club.
"We have 30 seconds in front of the TV," said Clark. "We have a small routine and will be trying to get everything in as much as possible."
Will Hoffman be bothered by all the attention?
"I don't think the crowd will bother him one bit," Clark said.
How's he going to feel when Broad Street is his stage and all eyes are upon him?
"I'm going to be happy," Hoffman said.