REACH graduates take the joyous step into independence
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REACH graduates take the joyous step into independence

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.

NEW HAVEN – This year’s graduates of Chapel Haven’s REACH program were spirited as they took the joyous walk down the aisle in their caps and gowns on June 20, thanking family, staff and most of all the friends who helped get them through.

In his graduation speech, Jonas Belon, who came to Chapel Haven from Denver, said the most important thing he learned was how to solve problems.

“I learned to solve them without getting me or my friends in trouble. I learned how to be a better friend,” he said. “Graduating REACH means a lot to me.”

Congratulations to Jonas, Joe, Allan, Hannah, Dylan, Justin, Ben, Juliana and Nick on their graduation! To see a photo album, click here.

Graduating student Hannah Kessler performed a solo song as part of the graduation.

Jordan Girard, director of REACH and Bridge at Chapel Haven, was like a proud dad, reflecting upon how the graduates came with their unique talents from many different states.

“We’ll miss your smiles, laughter, stories, perseverance,” he told the class of 2014. “Seeing you guys here today fills us with so much pride and happiness…Here you are ready to make your mark upon the world.”

Hannah Kessler performed a beautiful solo song and has become known around campus for her beautiful singing voice.

In the traditional REACH (Residential Education at Chapel Haven) program, adults 18+ with mild developmental disabilities and autism 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, they may choose to continue living in the area and receive continued supports from Chapel Haven.

The class has already made their mark on New Haven and the Westville community of which they have become such a part, according to keynote speaker Chris Heitmann, executive director of Westville Renaissance Alliance, a grassroots neighborhood group.

Chris Heitmann, executive director of Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, gave the keynote address and said the students have become part of the fabric of Westville.

“We’re very proud to have Chapel Haven be a part of our community,” Heitmann said. “Our mission is to partner with as many individuals who have a common interest in keeping,” the neighborhood nice.

Chapel Haven students and community members participate in events such as the annual art show and help landscape and keep the area looking pretty. The alliance has even hired two Chapel Haven community members five days a week and “it makes a huge difference,” he said.

“You are community members and you’re invested here…We look forward to seeing you in the community,” Heitmann said. “The partnership we’ve developed with Chapel Haven is one of the most meaningful.”

Graduate Justin Martin, from NYC, who never looked more dapper than in his gray suit and blue cap and gown, broke from the script on his way down the aisle to give his dad a big hug.

“There are special people here I cannot thank enough,” Justin said, adding a special shout out to those who traveled from Washington D.C. and Chicago  to see him graduate.

“I want to thank all the staff and my teachers  –  I learned so much you can’t believe it,” said Justin, who also said he made a lot of good friends.

Chapel Haven President Michael Storz, WVRA Director Chris Heitmann and the parents of graduate Joe Fabry.

Jonas thanked his teachers for helping him to stay “healthy and happy,” Chapel Haven President Michael Storz for “being there and to other staff for their reminders to stay, “FOCUSED.” He emphasized the word and got lots of laughs.

“We made it over the top of the mountain,” he told fellow graduates.

Dylan talks about his positive experiences as a residential student.

Dylan Kuhnhenn, who came to Chapel Haven from Washington, D.C., took it nicely from there, telling fellow graduates: “It’s time for us to start new adventures.” Dylan said in the last two years he’s learned to grocery shop and “most importantly,” how to manage his money.

Dylan, quite the socializer, noted he’s also enjoyed basketball, movies, the mall and volunteering at Chapel Haven café. Dylan is also quite the dancer.

“Class of 2014, we made it,” he said.