The REACH Class of 2019 touched many hearts as each student took to the microphone to talk about how Chapel Haven Schleifer Center has helped them become more independent.
“Being a full-time resident now, I have enjoyed my time more than ever, even if I am in a motorized wheelchair,” Andrew B. said. “Some of my fondest memories are watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus with Rafal, the holiday party that I hosted in my apartment, and watching Mr. Bean with Ari. Furthermore, I enjoyed having lunch with Julia and Vishal each week…The most important goal that I’ve learned is not to be isolated. I’ve worked on making more plans with friends which could not have happened in the past because of my physical disability.”
The REACH program is Chapel Haven’s founding program and has, for 47 years, helped adults of varying abilities gain independence. The Class of 2019 commencement ceremony took place June 14.
In the traditional REACH (Residential Education at Chapel Haven) program, students live apartment-style in an intensive 24-month Residential Life Skills program on the Chapel Haven campus. They learn to negotiate all aspects of independent living while enjoying a state approved education program and a nationally accredited transitional living program. Upon graduation, 85% of our adults choose to continue living in the Chapel Haven community, and receive continued supports from Chapel Haven. The Class of 2019 was the first to occupy Chapel Haven’s new REACH residential campus, part of a $60 million campus makeover. Still, the old brick building that housed the program for years drew some sentiment.
Teacher Bill Angier, who gave the keynote address, noted that he and the students all had one big thing in common – both started in the old REACH building and transitioned into the new campus in July 2019.
“Together, we are the only group of staff and students who can say that we worked and lived in the old and new REACH buildings. As you all remember I’m sure, the Old REACH building has a few flaws. Any building that old is bound to. The Old REACH building is worn from years of use. One REACH class after another for decades. The building is tight and you can hear two people having a conversation on the third floor from the first; which could be good or bad depending on the topic of the conversation,” Bill continued to laughter from the assembled families and friends. “While rough around the edges, the Old REACH building has a certain amount of charm. The small size kept us close together and I could always find my students by following the sound of their voices. The old REACH building helped build one my favorite parts about Chapel Haven; a family culture.”
Wayne R. said he is excited to be moving into the Chapel Haven neighborhood, where he will share an apartment with another students. “When I return from break I will go into the Chapel Haven Community and live in an apartment right next to Chapel Haven. After two years in the REACH Program I think that I have become more independent and I think that I am ready to live in the community. I have a lot great memories from Chapel Haven but my favorites ones are going for walks with my friends to get Friday Night Dinner. My favorite restaurant near Chapel Haven is Chen’s Kitchen. They have the best General Tso’s Chicken.”
“I also want to thank my parents for coming to my graduation and always answering my phone calls. You’ve helped me a lot over the past two years,” he added.
Zeyad’s remarks were videotaped and played at the commencement ceremony as proud parents, families and friends took video and snapped pix. Great job by Zeyad!
Vishal S. said Chapel Haven helped him make friends and learn to manage life skills.
“I just want to say that Chapel Haven is a good program. When I first got to Chapel Haven in 2017 I had trouble making friends and struggled to talk to people,” Vishal said. “I also had a hard time with Life Skills, especially making my bed. But, after two years I’m doing much better. Chapel Haven has taught me how to be social and do my Life Skills.”
“The most important thing I learned at Chapel Haven was Life Skills. I learned how to cook and clean my own apartment.”
Julia B. drew applause with her short but eloquent remarks recalling her role as Elsa from a production of “Frozen” in the Chapel Haven theater group.
“I learned to ski in Colorado. I had fun with my friends there. I liked the dances. I loved being in theater. Jordan (REACH Supervisor) made me laugh when he was a police officer stopping Aladdin and Jasmine speeding on their magic carpet. When you think of me…Let it Go, Let it Go!” she said to applause.
Evan I. loved the rec trips and said he has learned to cook some amazing entrees!
“I enjoyed Medieval Times, the Mystic Aquarium and Seaport, Dave and Busters, trips to the Holyoke Mall and Six Flags. I also loved going to the XL Center for events. But my most favorite rec trips were when we went to trampoline parks. I would have gone every month if I could have!
“The most important thing I learned was how to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. When you’re independent, you have to make choices. It’s hard to make choices and it’s really hard when you find out you made the wrong choice. But that’s part of being independent. The staff here helped me to realize that I have to make my own choices and if I make a mistake it’s o.k. and I can learn from it.”
Congrats to the Class of 2019, we are so proud of you!