Chapel Haven Community Member Organizes His Own Seder

A big congratulations to Chapel Haven Community Member Sam Shwartz, who hosted his own Seder in his apartment at Chapel Haven.

Sam hosted a Passover Seder for 13 friends. The conversation was brisk, the laughs were plenty and they ate matzo ball soup, beef brisket, broccoli casserole, grape juice and mandel bread for dessert. Sam did a great job reading the story of Passover and leading blessings and prayer. Hebrew music was provided through recordings of the cantor from his family synagogue in the Boston area. Way to go Sam! This was no easy task!

The New Haven Register captured the celebration for a front page story on April 15. Check it out here.

Chapel Haven President Michael Storz said the fact that Sam organizes and holds a seder in his apartment at Chapel Haven is a true indicator of independence. Storz said he’s especially pleased that Sam continues to honor the traditions of his faith even as he pursues a life of independence.

“Sam considers Chapel Haven his home and his parents fully support that,” Storz said. “Our staff helped Sam organize his invitations, plan the meal and shop, but for the most part, Sam is in the lead and that is wonderful. We recognize how important it is for clients to find fellowship here, in our community. That’s what adult life is all about.”

Chapel Haven also has been privileged to have its own unique Jewish Students Organization, with the help of Jewish Family Services of New Haven’s Shalom Group, which serves Jewish individuals in the New Haven area who have developmental needs. The Shalom Group helps individuals experience holiday observance, Torah study and shared fellowship. Rabbi Hesch Sommer of Jewish Family Services and JFS social worker Rachel Scolnic Dobin teach sessions twice a month at Chapel Haven and the group is a popular option for clients at Chapel Haven. While Sommer focuses on religious teaching, Dobin handles etiquette, daily living, holiday observances and activities through the Jewish Community Center.

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Chapel Haven’s Diana Bilezikian publishes handy guide!

Chapel Haven has an author in the house!

Diana Bilezikian, a graduate of Scarsdale High School and a longtime Chapel Haven community member, is the author of the just-published book, “Dear Diana…Diana’s Guide to Independent Living – For Adolescents and Young Adults with Different Learning Styles and Special Needs” (AAPC Publishing).

The book is chock-full of advice and tips on how to navigate practical aspects of daily living. Diana will sign and sell copies of the book at Chapel Haven’s upcoming Family Weekend Brunch on April 27. The book is also available for sale by logging onto

Diana’s book is an outgrowth of a series of Diana’s emails, sent to relatives and friends about her life and the skills she was learning as she negotiated daily life at Chapel Haven. Backed by Michael Storz, president of Chapel Haven, Diana’s original ideas were expanded into a helpful collection of advice and support for how to live an independent and meaning life.

She is already attracting wonderful reviews! Reviewer Merri Rosenberg, of Education Update Online, calls the book “poignant, brave, touching and incredibly practical.”

Proceeds from the sale of the books will benefit Chapel Haven.

Way to go, Diana!



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Chapel Haven joins Yale University in celebrating World Autism Awareness Day

Kimber and Hannah work on a mural, to be displayed at Yale

Chapel Haven students and community members collaborated with students from Yale University to create artwork together in advance of World Autism Awareness Day.

All the art supplies were donated by Yale. The resulting artwork will be displayed April 2, in Yale’s Woolsey Hall rotunda to increase awareness of autism.
Click here to read coverage in the New Haven Register and to view a video and photo slide show.

Yale will also celebrate the international day in other ways. Yale’s Harkness Tower will glow bright blue on the evening of Tuesday, April 2, in honor of World Autism Awareness Day.The colorful illumination on the campus landmark is part of “Light It Up Blue” by Autism Speaks, a global initiative designed both to kick off the celebration of April as Autism Awareness Month and to raise awareness about autism. Many iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, concert halls, museums, bridges, and retail stores around the globe will also be lit in blue that evening.  Continue reading
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Chapel Haven receives iPads courtesy of New England Chapter of Autism Speaks

President Michael Storz joined Lauren Amendola of Autism Speaks in announcing the iPad donation to students

Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, distributed 19 iPads to organizations who serve the needs of adults on the autism spectrum throughout parts of New England, including Chapel Haven.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Celegene Corporation, the New England Chapter of Autism Speaks was able to distribute iPads to organizations dedicated to autistic adults.

Lauren Amendola, Director of Field Development for Connecticut Autism Speaks, visited Chapel Haven on Friday, Jan. 31, to donate the iPads and to tour the campus. Based in New Haven, CT, Chapel Haven is a nationally accredited, private, non-profit school and postsecondary program that teaches adults with autism and other cognitive disabilities to live independent lives. The agency will hold an open house for interested families on Friday, Feb. 28. For info or to register, go to

“With these donated iPads, we are supporting important service providers who are on the frontlines of addressing the underserved adult segment in our autism communities throughout New England,” said Russ Kenn, Executive Director of the New England Chapter. “It is also a tangible way to support adults on the spectrum, and allows our chapter to showcase the gifts inside people with autism, helping them reach their full potential.”

The goal at Autism Speaks is to provide individuals with autism and their families with all the tools they need throughout the lifespan.  Adults living with autism often have difficulty finding information about programs and supports that would allow them to live as independently as possible. Therefore, Autism Speaks’ Adult Services initiatives focus on resources that impact all facets of adult life including employment, housing, community life and post-secondary education.

“We are so grateful to receive the iPads, which fit in well with our evolving use of technology in teaching and learning at Chapel Haven,” said President Michael Storz. “Technology applications can be used in many ways to help adults on the spectrum, from time management to something as simple as hygiene lessons. This contribution helps keep Chapel Haven at the forefront in using these tools.”

With the diversity in needs and programming for adults on the autism spectrum, these donated iPads will serve a variety of uses.  The receiving organizations have reported that they will use them to enhance communication, support job training, and provide virtual support, among other uses. In addition to the these 19 iPads, Autism Speaks recently announced the recipients of New England Chapter grants totaling $25,000 and a national iPad give-away that has helped 800 additional schools, service providers and students on the spectrum; 24 of which were received in Connecticut.  For more information about the New England Chapter of Autism Speaks, please visit or contact the New England Chapter of Autism Speaks at (617) 726-1515 or


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Project Search 2014

Project SEARCH has just begun its second year! Community Members from various Chapel Haven programs independently travel to Yale New Haven Hospital five days a week where they participate in vocationally-oriented classroom instruction followed by a 5-hour-a-day internship in one of many hospital departments. Interns are becoming essential parts of hospital departments such as Chemistry Lab, Pharmacy, Interpreter Services, Patient Transport, and Central Sterile Supply, just to name a few. In conjunction with Project SEARCH job coaches, hospital employees are taking leadership roles as they work with the Project SEARCH interns to develop skills necessary to complete a number of tasks within their assigned department.

Chapel Haven is delighted to be the first Connecticut site.

Project SEARCH interns have been preparing for the 2013-2014 term since July when they first attended a welcome session held by Project SEARCH staff. Since then, they underwent travel training led by Job Coach, Andrew Chhom and prepared for two weeks of orientation classes.

Maria R., a graduate of ASAT and current community member, is working in the Interpreter services department and she is inputting data into the computer. She inputs SNET reports, which are patient interpreter documents that need to be recorded, and she records what language the interpretation is how much the cost is.

Marcus H., also of ASAT, is working the Chemistry Lab and he is checking lab requisition forms for errors that might have been inputted into the computer wrong. He has to make sure the hard copy and the electronic copy match perfectly.







Jarrod A., an ASAT community member, is working the Pharmacy department and he is working on the return of medications. He is using the computer to input medication counts back into the inventory so they can be properly sorted and put away back into the Pharmacy stock.


Tim H., an ASAT student, is working in the Pharmacy department and he is sending medications to specific patient floors by using the tubing system.  Before being placed in hospital departments, the Project SEARCH interns were guided through various vocational assessments by Program Coordinator, Kristine Fornaby, which yielded very exciting results. Interns excitedly discussed their work personality profiles, strengths, and environmental preferences as they pertain to the various hospital departments and were given the opportunity to make choices about their own placements; it was a great exercise in self determination! As the program progresses through the year, the interns are delving into some self reflective and goal setting activities led by Special Education Teacher, Kim Freeman. The five hours a week of vocationally oriented classroom instruction is designed to focus on building the “soft skills” each individual will need to be successful in the workplace as well as developing a strong cover letter, resume and interviewing skills for each Project SEARCH participant.

Interns have already begun to build the hard skills necessary to contribute in their departments, gained self esteem and are on their way towards achieving great and attainable goals for future employment!  See more photos here: Project Search 2014



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‘Sensory trail’ on Horseback Brings out the Best in Chapel Haven Riders

Kimber enjoys the class!

The sound of wind chimes, the crunch, smell and taste of mint leaves, oregano, dill and rosemary, followed by colorful flag designs that fuel the imagination. These are some of the sensory pieces students and community members delight in as they negotiate an outdoor trail on horseback at Turning Point Farm in Woodbridge on Wednesday evenings.

“Students connect in a very special way with these huge animals…It’s about having to focus, trusting this huge animal, “said Chapel Haven art teacher Tina Menchetti, who was instrumental in connecting Chapel Haven with the non-profit Animal Assisted Therapy Services, Inc. and its founder, CEO and director Chris Patella.

“It’s different than a human connection…I’m seeing a lot of growth in the students.”  Patella opened the business after 30 years as a music teacher with the Bridgeport School system, believing it would be a nice part-time venture. Chris also went back to school to earn a masters’ degree in recreational therapy from Southern Connecticut State University. “It’s seven days a week,” she said of the successful new chapter in life that includes music therapy and therapy with the dogs. Continue reading

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ASAT announces winter courses

The Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition (ASAT) Program at Chapel Haven provides an array of services to support individuals with Asperger’s and related diagnoses to live increasingly independent and productive lives. One component is our adult education program, which offers a range of courses to develop social and independent living skills, as well as for personal enrichment.

The Course Catalog for Winter 2014 is now available. Courses range in topic and focus and include selections such as: stress management, personal finance, animation appreciation, recognizing and reading nonverbal clues, perspective taking and healthy lifestyles. Continue reading

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Chapel Haven plans ski trip to Crested Butte in March

Chapel Haven enjoyed a fun time skiing in beautiful Crested Butte, CO last year.

For the second consecutive year, Chapel Haven’s Recreation Program is organizing a skip trip for students and community members to beautiful Crested Butte, CO.


Chapel Haven’s community is invited to spend March 8-13, 2014 hitting the slopes. Each participant will have their own personal “guide” through the trip. One-to-one ski instruction will be provided by the Adaptive Sports Center at Crested Butte.

This trip is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Questions? Contact Michael Verzella, supervisor of recreation and operations, at (203) 397-1714, ext. 129, or

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Drumming class culminates in joyful concert!

Tina Menchetti offered a drumming class this fall and she had many eager takers.

Students had the chance to travel to a drumming studio in the Amity section of Woodbridge, run by a program called Animal Assisted Therapy Programs, where Chapel Haven’s group learned to use drums as a way to reduce stress, enhance creativity, share self expression and have fun in a supportive environment.

Tina notes that sound “is comprised of vibrations and the root of vibrations is energy. Sound is a powerful intervention used to rebalance the body. Our students had a great time expressing themselves in this inaugural class.”

On hand at the culminating concert, held in Chapel Haven’s Outreach Center, was Chris Patella, founder and director of Animal Assisted Therapy Services, and Lydia Smith, a Certified Therapeutic Drumming Instructor & Early Childhood Music Specialist. Lydia is a life-long Connecticut resident who has been drumming all her life. She is a graduate of the Creative Arts Therapy Program at The New School in New York City. She holds a B.S. Degree in Liberal Studies (Music, Education, Psychology) from Southern Connecticut State University and an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Post University. Lydia is a certified Remo’s HealthRHYTHMS Drum Circle Facilitator serving all populations, and conducts drum circles all over the state.

To see a photo album from the event, click here: Therapeutic Drumming Class

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Check out the video: ASAT students make beautiful music!

Several female students and graduates of Chapel Haven’s Asperger Syndrome Adult Transition Program were busy last fall writing their own songs through an innovative “class” offered by the Neighborhood Music School.

Entitled, “NoteAble Women,” the program gave each individual the chance to create an original song with help from the school’s renowned music faculty.

David Mills at the Neighborhood Music School put together a video of the culminating concert.

For two hours every Friday, the students, accompanied by ASAT Student Advisor Gina Apicella, went to the Neighborhood Music School to study songs they liked, to write lyrics and then to try out their creations with the help of faculty assisting on keyboards, a loog guitar and drums. Their songs were performed in a special concert during the ASAT family weekend April 27 at the Neighborhood Music School. They were assisted by NMS faculty members.

“The idea was to bring these women together to write an original song that reflects on their collaboration with our faculty members – Sarah Lamieux and David Mills – and to reflect on their own lives – to get in touch with feelings they might otherwise not share,” said Gretchen Hary, Director of Special Needs at the school and on the percussion faculty.

“Not being a big songwriter myself I wondered how we would take these women with no songwriting experience and come away with a song. I was a little skeptical at first. But I was just amazed, and the women were too, at the songs they created with the help of these facilitators.’

Among the topics of the songs? First love, what else?

Gina, who is a point staffer for Chapel Haven’s ASAT program, likewise said the program helped the students “enjoy music as a universal language. There were no constraints.”

“The sense of accomplishment is awesome,” Gina said. “They are proud of what they’ve worked on.”

NoteAble Women was made possible after Alice Ann Harwood, development director at the Neighborhood Music School, applied for and received a grant from the Community Foundation’s Women and Girls Foundation. The school already offers a drum circle class for ASAT students and the grant was another way for the school to further one of its goals: to serve youngsters and adults on the spectrum through the medium of music. Continue reading

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