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Nandi, at far right, at the Ronald McDonald House with Chapel Haven’s Community Life Program.

Nandi J. describes herself as a shy girl who has “come out of her shell” since she started as a day student in Chapel Haven’s Community Life Program.

Age 24, Nandi is a New Haven native who attends Chapel Haven Monday-Friday in a structured program where students do volunteer work at rotating community sites, make meals together and go on social outings. She is our featured story in our weekly “Chapel Haven Changes Lives” series, because her smile lights up every room and she has grown so much at Chapel Haven.

Before Chapel Haven, Nandi’s life was different. “I was still learning how to be independent within the community,” she said. Her mom introduced her to Chapel Haven, where she toured the campus and instantly fell in love with it. Nandi says she was totally ready for a new experience and atmosphere.

“I thought it was cool how Chapel Haven students get to go out into the community, enjoy fun things like the recreational trips and learn independence,” she said. “Now I talk a lot more to my peers more than I ever did in high school.”

Nandi as Princess Jasmine in a Chapel Haven Theatre Group production.

Her favorite part about Chapel Haven is participating in Chapel Haven’s Theatre group and taking fitness classes. Nandi especially loves to sing and perform. She also enjoys being part of the Best Buddies program and is matched with a mentor from Southern Connecticut State University.

“This is something that I always wanted to do, like theater art, it was a dream come true to be a part of the class,” she said. Favorite artists include Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, Ne-Yo and songs from High School Musical.

Nandi credits Chapel Haven with helping her learn how to be independent, budget her money and interact with peers. She has learned how to grocery shop and how to do some problem solving on her own.

“Chapel Haven…teaches me how to try new things and to not be afraid,” she said.

Nandi as Dorothy!

She advises incoming students that it is o.k. to be afraid and nervous at the beginning. “Just smile and be positive and enjoy life.”

Life after Chapel Haven consist of her living in a nice house and studying more arts. Her goal is to give back to the community through organizations like the American Red Cross and cancer support programs.

“Following my dreams and being more connected with my friends is what I hope for.”