The University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford held a ceremony Wednesday afternoon to reveal its new Center for Applied Research and Education building.
By Katie Cavanaugh
On Wednesday the University of Saint Joseph held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil its new Center for Applied Research and Education (CARE).
The building’s completion marks the end of phase one of a two-phase process of expanding the Gengras Center, a facility with the mission to “promote and cultivate learning, self-esteem, social growth, opportunity and independence for students ages 5 to 21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities and related challenges.”
The new facility will primarily focus on autism, and will provide students and staff with the amenities necessary to educate impacted students, conduct research, and train teachers. It includes a gym, an art room, added therapy space, and four classrooms – two of which are meant for students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
According to John Molteni, director for Autism and Behavioral Studies at the University of Saint Joseph and proponent of the building, “The CARE facility will enhance everybody’s skill set and everybody’s performance.”
The University of Saint Joseph is the only university in Connecticut to offer a masters program in Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis. The facility will be crucial to the education of those students who are pursing that degree and allow the university to accept more students into the program.
However, Molteni said they hope the center will benefit more than just those who live in the community. “The building serves as a resource for the state and the region,” said Molteni. “We hope to disseminate the things we do here regionally and nationally.”
Those who work at the Gengras Center said they have recognized the need for additional space for a long time. Michelle L. Lestrud is the current director of the Gengras Center and has worked at the center for 17 years.
“Ever since I began working at the Gengras Center I noticed that we haven’t had enough space,” said Lestrud. “We now have a new building with a gymnasium and an art room that we never had before.”
Parents have also expressed appreciation and excitement for the new facilities. Noraleen LeClaire sends her child to receive services at the Gengras Center and said she is very excited for the opportunities the new building will offer the students.
“We’re thrilled about the CARE facility. They’ve needed a bit more space, and having the gym in the foyer wasn’t the most idea situation,” said LeClaire. “We’re really excited to have a separate gym and an art room.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony opened with a speech made by University of Saint Joseph President, Dr. Pamela Trotman Reid. “One year ago, almost to the day, this was nothing but dirt,” said Reid.
She spoke about the importance of the facility and thanked those who have brought it into fruition. “A lot of people worked so hard envisioning it to get it right for our faculty and staff,” she said.
The Archbishop of Hartford, the Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, provided a blessing for the building and those who work within it.
E. Clayton (Skip) Gengras Jr. and Senator Blumenthal were present to share their sentiments before lining up to cut the ceremonial blue ribbon. The ceremony was followed by self-guided tours through the building.
The Center for Applied Research and Education will enhance the Gengras Center and will provide faculty and staff with the necessary tools to make a positive chance in the community and beyond. The university will now look at phase two of the project, which will include the renovation of the old building and training for those impacted students who phase out of the education system.
“Now we’ll have two facilities that host magic and miracles every day,” said Gengras.
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