Chapel Haven’s Founders Nurtured a Dream of Independence 42 years ago
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Chapel Haven’s Founders Nurtured a Dream of Independence 42 years ago

The following is a special needs program update from Chapel Haven. You may also click here to read the original article on the program’s website.

Jerry and Eva Rossman co-founded Chapel Haven in 1972 as a "next-step" in independence for their son, Peter.

Never underestimate the power of determined parents.

That is the lesson behind the founding of Chapel Haven, which started as the dream of a group of parents celebrating their kids’ graduation from Maplebrook School in Amenia, NY in the early 1970s.

The big question on everyones’ minds? What next?

.“We had a whole group of people who were meeting all the time, called the Maplebrook Parents’ Association,” said Chapel Haven co-founder Jerry Rossman, who not only co-founded Chapel Haven with the late Sydney Krass, a realtor in New Haven, but served as board chair for many years. Jerry has since retired to Florida with his wife, Eva, joining daughter Karen Fleck and son, “Pizza” Pete Rossman, a Chapel Haven graduate. Jerry’s love and allegiance to Chapel Haven is clear.

We wanted a place where our kids could live and learn their independence, and then go home,” Jerry recalled fondly. “But…nobody wanted to go home.”

Lori Krass, daughter of co-founder Barry Krass, has been living in the Chapel Haven community with independence for more than 30 years.

Barry Krass, son of Sydney Krass, recalls that his father and Jerry worked hand-in-hand to get Chapel Haven up and running. His sister, Lori Krass, is a community member at Chapel Haven who was honored in 2012 for surpassing her 30-years of independence mark.

Chapel Haven began in a house on Chapel Street in New Haven in 1972, with six students and two staff.

“Both my Dad and Mr. Rossman had a common interest – they wanted to provide a nutritious environment, safety and education similar to what they had at Maplebrook but they knew there wasn’t anything around at the time,” Barry said. “So they bought a building on Chapel Street and that’s the derivation of the name Chapel Haven. They raised money, they went to other parents and there was an overwhelming interest in creating a program. They put some money together and they were off and running.”

Jerry has fond memories of all the meetings and footwork that led to Chapel Haven’s opening in 1972 as a private non-profit agency teaching adults how to live independently. He fondly recalls his weekly lunch meetings with Jeanne Sargent Bercowitz, a local waitress who had a dream of starting a residential program. “Eventually I had to hire Jeannie Sargent on a full basis with her husband. She and her husband ran the program. I used to go up once a week and have lunch with her. She was very cute. She charged one dollar for lunch. It grew from there until we finally bought the property,” Jerry recalled.

After looking at various properties, the group, led by Realtor Sydney Krass, settled on 1599 Chapel Street and went through lengthy zoning hearings to gain approval. Jerry’s son, “Pizza” Pete, did not join Chapel Haven until it moved into its current spot at 1040 Whalley Avenue in 1976. But he recalls helping move the growing agency to Whalley Avenue and he has many fond memories of his time at Chapel Haven.

The Rossman family are very proud of Chapel Haven's success over the years. Their son, Peter (second row, center) has fond memories of his years at Chapel Haven and is still in touch with many in the community.

Peter went through the residential program at Chapel Haven and then graduated out into the community. He worked on the maintenance crew at a company in North Haven called Giltx and fondly recalls taking the bus to and from for the 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. shift. Pete also worked at the Sargent lock company. He recalls favorite rec trips such as Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island and hanging out with many friends, including Kim and Rich LaManna, the late David Poole, and Andy Auerbach.

But probably his best memory is the job he landed selling pizza at New Haven Ravens games. He would walk up and down the bleachers at Ravens’ games, yelling, “fresh, hot pizza.” He was so good at the job, he earned a news feature in the New Haven Register and Dad Jerry was asked to throw out the ball at opening season.

When asked what makes him happiest about Chapel Haven’s growth and success, Jerry responded, “the success. Practically all of the students you have there are very happy. They are having a good time and don’t want to go back home. They are doing everything they want to do. These are kids who would be floundering otherwise.”

“Chapel Haven was a pioneer,” agreed wife, Eva. “It’s been copied many times.”

Today, Chapel Haven is an award-winning, nationally accredited school and transition program serving 250-plus adults with a variety of abilities and needs. Chapel Haven occupies a flourishing campus at 1040 Whalley Avenue in New Haven, CT, and a satellite campus in Tucson, AZ called Chapel Haven West. A unique feature of Chapel Haven’s programs is the ability of adults 18 and older to enroll in an intensive, residential experience, graduate and move into ongoing adult life in the Chapel Haven community.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our founding families!