Documenting over 50 years from institution to independence


Judy Faust



By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer

As owner and producer of Connect Your Stories Productions, Judy Faust, 64, of Stow has begun pre-production on her third documentary, “From Institution to Independence: The Donna Jay Story.” Jay is legally blind, and has intellectual and developmental disabilities. She was age 4 in 1960 when their family doctor advised her parents to institutionalize her.

Now age 59, Jay lives independently in her own condominium and worked a full-time job for over 27 years in Salem. She currently presents workshops for the nonprofit Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong (MASS) in Boston and serves as its executive board vice chair.

“Donna is turning 60 this summer,” Faust noted. “She’s going to have a big birthday party in August. I’m thinking about filming that as the end of the documentary. Donna has so much spunk, spirit and determination. She has overcome many obstacles.”

Faust is conducting interviews for the documentary this spring with representatives of organizations affiliated with Jay including MASS, the Department of Developmental Services and The Arc. While documenting Jay’s ongoing progress, Faust is also aiming to chronicle the state’s evolution of handling disability issues.

“We can interview people who have known Donna for five decades and have seen her go from institution to independence,” Faust said. “It happened because laws changed, and the civil rights movement advocated for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There was a time when instuitionalism turned into a disaster and many of them have closed. Like any good documentary, it will include some of that controversy.”

Interviews will also be conducted with some of Jay’s nine siblings.

“The family has had some challenges,” Faust acknowledged. “They have a lot of guilt because they put Donna in an institution. They thought it was the right the thing to do, then found out later that maybe it wasn’t. Now the siblings have to try to get along. I have a sister who is visually handicapped, so I know how that can affect a family. It can be very difficult.”

Faust wants the documentary to display Jay’s active and creative lifestyle. Scenes will be filmed of her dancing, drumming and creating art.

“Creativity is a way of expressing her frustrations, how she sustains herself and how she gets over those times when she has to look at the next mountain to climb,” Faust said. “She’s a natural in front of the camera. She’s got that special quality of charisma.”

Jay incorporates her charm into presentations for conferences and organizations helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The documentary will be used for presentations she does with the training team based at MASS, which is mentored by Fran Hogan. Jay sets a good example to follow because she speaks from firsthand experience, Hogan noted.

“Three people go out and train individuals on how to find a real job with real pay,” Hogan explained. “They have a PowerPoint presentation and activities where they find out how to do an interview, and how to dress and present yourself to find a job. They learn that it’s fine if the first job doesn’t work out; you keep trying. That’s Donna’s motto: ‘Keep trying and you can do it.’”

Hogan has worked with Jay as her support broker at MASS for three years. During that time, Hogan has observed Jay’s passion for consistently reaching out to her peers and beyond.

“Donna wants to connect not only with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, but also their parents, family members and individuals who work with them,” Hogan said. “She helps get across to the community that they’re just like everyone else. They work, they vote, they want to get married, and they want to be an integral part of the community. Most importantly, they have a lot to give.”

Faust hopes the documentary will air on public television, and screen at libraries, schools and independent movie theaters. For more information about “From Institution to Independence: The Donna Jay Story” and its fundraiser, visit

Donna Jay Photo/submitted
Donna Jay