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A bingo group in Gillette offers a sense of community for those with developmental disabilities

Mary Duncan
Bingo participants socialize at the Hole in the Wall Coffee Company in Gillette.

A bingo group hosted at a coffee shop in Gillette is providing a sense of community for those with developmental disabilities. Started earlier this year, there are anywhere from 15 to 20 members, some of which come from Standards Habitation Services, a local independent living and care provider. The group also serves members from Wright and Moorcroft.

The group meets at theHole in the Wall Coffee Company.

“We were looking for something for our clients and our special people with autism that are independent for something for them to do as a group,” said Mary Duncan of Standards Habilitation Services in Gillette and an organizer of the group.

Other ideas for group gatherings, such as bowling, were initially considered but were found to be cost prohibitive for participants, many of which are on fixed incomes. Duncan then approached one of her community connections at Hole in the Wall Coffee Company, who agreed to host bingo, a game of which she’s an avid player herself.

“How I started, it was whoever can afford it would pay $5 when they come in, and they get a ticket and a soda, and a little packet and we play 10 games,” she said. “The money goes back to the clients when they win. You know, we play like 10 games straight bingo, the first person gets five. The second person, we keep carry[ing] on. Then if we have extra money, then we just make the pot bigger towards the end and instead of two winners, we go on three, four, five [games], however many till everybody wins.”

The group was started earlier this year and has proved to be successful. Bingo was initially held at the home of one of Duncan’s supervisors, though it proved to be too cramped of a space, which eventually led them to the coffee shop. It’s also wheelchair accessible, a requirement as two of the participants use wheelchairs. Local businesses have also been involved, donating items for prizes and giveaways, including local car dealerships, eateries, and even the local Pepsi distributor that provides drinks.

“I first started making grab bags, buying stuff off clearance and little shampoos and stuff,” Duncan said. “And then I thought, ‘You know, maybe businesses would help donate little trinkets and swag, books, [and] pins and stuff, so I started going around to businesses, and I still do. I have gone to all the dealerships. They have all donated [things] like bags, pins, [and] hats. Sherwin Williams donated some shirts, Ice Cream Cafe has donated coupons and certificates [as has Pizza Ranch. I've gone to dentists, and they've donated toothbrushes, just anything I can put in a grab bag.”

In addition to the regular participants, which range in age from their early 20s to late 60s, there are also a few staff that accompany Duncan to each bingo event. Some of the staff bring their kids, who also participate.

“When the kids come with their ticket, I make sure that everybody has a ticket, and then during the breaks, we call numbers and they go up and they get a grab bag,” she said. “And that way everybody goes away with something because you can't all win at bingo, and it's pretty cool. These guys are pretty happy, and when they win, they all get happy.”

Duncan would like the bingo group to become a local fixture at the coffee shop for the foreseeable future and is grateful for their involvement.

“They don't charge us for the building or to call bingo,” Duncan said of the host venue. “They just have donated their time and they're awesome. They're so good to our clients.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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