The first glimpse of Chapel Haven’s expansion of its Westville home was a little hard to see during a Friday afternoon ribbon-cutting.
There were so many people crammed into Chapel Haven’s new welcome center that the many supporters and well-wishers gathered could hardly get a look at the new fireplace, or check out much of the art created by the community members who lived there.
But the tight quarters didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit as hot cocoa and cookies flowed. Because everyone was there to celebrate a milestone. The new welcome center is the first sign that the campus expansion — a first in the 45-year history of the agency, which houses and runs programs for adults with disabilities — had gone from a plan to a reality.
Andrew Auerbach, who served as the day’s emcee, came to the Residential Education At Chapel Haven (REACH) program back in 1977 from New York City to learn to live independently, he said.
“Today, I have an amazing life,” he said. He works three days a week at the Yale Child Study Center and volunteers on Friday at City Hall with City Disability Services Director Michelle Duprey. He’s also active in several Chapel Haven recreational programs including a theater group.
“I have my own apartment here in Westville,” the Chapel Haven ambassador said proudly. “I cook, travel independently, drive and have a great social life with all my friends. This new welcome center is where I will be now to help out in greeting perspective new families.”
The welcome center is part of the first phase of the construction for the campus expansion. It also includes a new 32,500 square foot home for the residential and classroom space for the REACH program, which helps adults with cognitive and social disabilities learn to live on their own. People were able to take hard hat tours of the new building. The work on the rest of this first phase, which is being done by SLAM Construction Services, is expected to open in July.
Phase 2 of the project will deliver a new four-story residential community for older adults with disabilities to allow them to age in place. Construction of that project is expected to begin in the fall. (Read more about the expansion here and here.)
Chapel Haven President Michael Storz said that Chapel Haven is turning “a new leaf” in its playbook and “charting the next 45 years of excellence in our field.” The construction of the new welcome center began in November. It will be ready to be formally occupied on Monday.
“I can not be more excited and grateful that Chapel Haven is gaining a grand entry that gives you that wow moment…that is worthy of the warm welcome that we give all our friends and our families,” he said.
Chapel Haven Board Chair Peggy Baker, who also serves as a soccer and softball coach for the community, said that the new campus and the $36.5 million raised to support the expansion position the agency to serve adults through their lifespan.
“This couldn’t have happened without parents,” she said.
Parent Harriet Schleifer, who is a board member, said a lot of parents intend for Chapel Haven to be a community where their children can be lifetime residents.
“This is it, folks,” she said. “This is our place.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro echoed the sentiment: “This is your place. The center of your lives. Parents and family, this must give you a great sense of pride and relief.”
In addition to DeLauro, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Ben Florsheim of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s office, State Rep. Pat Dillon, and Mayor Toni Harp attended the event.
Harp said Chapel Haven sees people the way New Haven sees people: as a place to start one’s life and as a place to grow.
Westville/Beverly Hills Alder Richard Furlow said there’s no Westville-Chapel Haven divide; it’s all one community. He credited Chapel Haven neighbors for their concern in the upkeep of the neighborhood and for advocating for the flashing beacon crosswalk at Emerson and Fountain streets that benefits everyone.
“I live right down the street,” he said. “Some of you know this because you stop by my house sometimes. We’re at Stop & Shop together, we’re at Top Kat doing laundry together, we’re in CVS in the candy aisle together.”
What benefits Chapel Haven benefits all of the nearby neighbors, he noted.
“We’re one community, one family, and I am excited about what’s going on here because I’m not leaving New Haven,” he said. “I’m not leaving Westville so this means we’re all going to grow old together here. We’ve got a long way to go until we get old. But this is the right development in the right area and I’m just happy that this is taking place in Westville.”