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This week, Chapel Haven Changes Lives is delighted to feature Matt Baker, 26, a Cheshire High School graduate who was shy about coming to Chapel Haven seven years ago, but has gained a vibrant adult independent life here.

Matt is a REACH graduate who now lives in his own condo, within walking distance to the Chapel Haven campus. He has earned a reputation around campus for his extensive knowledge of the Chapel Haven campus expansion project. Matt was appointed to serve on Chapel Haven’s Building Committee and he keeps a close eye on every aspect of construction, which he can literally see from the windows of his condo. He  has provided valuable input to our architectural team from S/L/A/M Collaborative, Owner’s Rep Leland Torrence and Construction Supervisor Bob Malavasi.

Matt, at far right, enjoys playing on CH’s Special Olympics soccer team.

“I love Matt,” Bob Malavasi says. “He is so involved in this project. He comes in at least twice a week to take different pictures of the progress. We keep in touch like we’re best friends via text message. He’s just a terrific guy and I’m happy I met him.”

Leland has also become a big fan of Matt. “Matt is a very diligent and keen observer of details,” said Leland. “He texts me regularly two or three times a day with any concerns he has with the construction site or activities that are going on. He is completely dedicated to the quality of this project.”

Matt came to Chapel Haven in 2010 after graduating from Cheshire High School. He had a lot of friends in his home community of Cheshire, and names Senior Walk and senior picnic as two highlights of his high school tenure. Matt ran track, was on the skiing team and enjoyed math class. He earned several medals during high school for his track achievements.

Matt did not really want to come to Chapel Haven back in the day and remembers giving his folks, John and Peggy Baker, a hard time. Matt was nervous even about signing up for a week visit, where a prospective REACH applicant spends six days living in a REACH apartment, going to classes, doing some life skills and enjoying a few weekend recreation trips. But the week visit helped him settle in and by the time Matt started the program in July 2010, he was more excited than nervous.

Now, the family joke is, Matt never wants to come home!’

“It’s so nice to know that Matthew has his own life now and we’re just a part of it, like any other family would be,” said Peggy, Matt’s mother. “The big hope was maybe by the time he was 35, he MIGHT be able to live alone. Never did we dream he’d be independent by age 24. Everyone in our family is so happy because Matt is so happy.”

After graduating REACH in 2012, Matt spent three years in the Bridge program at Chapel Haven, a less supervised setting that helps CH adults get ready for living in the community. Now, in his own renovated condo, Matt makes his own meals and maintains his condo. Matt admits that his least favorite activity is cleaning the bathroom in his condo! His favorite meal to cook is chicken on the George Foreman grill.

Two times a week, Matt catches a bus to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he works in materials and logistics, breaking down boxes, loading and unloading the trucks. Matt’s favorite part of the job is that it’s physically demanding.

Asked what he likes most about Chapel Haven, Matt said the recreation trips are the best – he enjoys seeing the Wolfpack hockey team play, is part of Chapel Haven’s Cross Fit team, working out twice a week with trainer Justin Nassra, and has been a part of Chapel Haven’s Best Buddies program for the last seven years. Bingo night with the Best Buddies mentors from Southern CT State University is his favorite activity.

Matt is also active in Chapel Haven’s Special Olympics program, and does track, bowling, basketball (offense and defense), softball (plays second base) and soccer (forward position).

Matt has a big, loving family, who support Chapel Haven in many ways, including the annual bowlathon.

Matt meets a few hours each week with Chapel Haven Support Coordinator Ron Guerrucci, for help with his budget, laundry and going for walks on Thursdays.

Along with serving on Chapel Haven’s Building Committee, Matt is also a member of the Chapel Haven golf tournament planning committee. He enjoys helping out at the annual event, held each fall at New Haven Country Club, and especially enjoys driving the beer cart around with his uncle Ritchie. Matt also is an advisor on Chapel Haven’s capital campaign committee.

Asked if he had any advice for new students, Matt said, “don’t be nervous. You might be nervous at first, but you will get used to it. Do the week visit because it will help you be more comfortable.”

Thank you, Matt, you rock!