St. Mary’s Center to open new facility

The center hopes
to open this summer
but still needs additional funding and supplies

By JESSICA ABLE
Record Staff Writer

Mary Jo Payne, left, and Ursuline Sister Regina Bevelacqua co-founded St. Mary’s Center in 1992. The day-training center provides educational and social growth opportunities for intellectually challenged adults. The center is preparing for a move to its new facility located in Middletown at 14207 Aiken Road.

St. Mary’s Center, a day-training center for intellectually challenged adults, plans to open its new facility at 14207 Aiken Road in Middletown this summer.
But before that can happen, the center needs additional funding and donations of furniture and supplies.

“The funds are dwindling. We are getting things done a little at a time as donations come in,” Ursuline Sister Regina Bevelacqua, executive director of St. Mary’s Center, said in an interview this week.

St. Mary’s Center was co-founded in 1992 by Sister Bevelacqua and Mary Jo Payne, who works professionally with clients such as those served at St. Mary’s. The center was created to provide opportunities for educational and social growth for intellectually challenged adults.

“We want to provide them with a quality day. We don’t want them sitting at home watching TV all day,” Payne said.

Through the years, St. Mary’s Center has been housed in a number of locations. The first was a small room at the
Ursuline Campus.

“That first year we only had four students, and we met in a small office,” Sister Bevelacqua said in a recent interview.

For the last 18 years, the center has rented space in the educational building at the old Middletown United Methodist Church.

Throughout all the locations, the goal has been the same, the women said: To help intellectually challenged adults to become more independent and productive members of society.

The center provides programming Mondays through Fridays to 38-40 individuals.

Each day is different, the women said. Programs center around learning life and social skills. Recreational activities are also part of the mix, Payne noted. For instance, participants can join in the square dance class on Mondays or go bowling on Wednesdays.

In the afternoons, volunteers from elementary and high schools come to the center to do arts and crafts with the students, Sister Bevelacqua said.

“We have about 50 clients total,” she said. “Some have jobs and only come on their days off. When you include all the participants in the sports programs, we serve more than 150.”

Three years ago St. Mary’s Center began accepting medicaid waivers, and enrollment increased — now the center has a waiting list of potential students.

In addition to Sister Bevelacqua and Payne, the center employs about a dozen staff members including a director of development, a program director and direct care staff.

The current space is spread between three floors in various offices and meeting rooms.

“It’s difficult to maneuver. We don’t have restrooms on each floor, and for some it’s hard to climb up and down all the stairs,” Payne said.

The new 22,000-square-foot building will use a single-floor plan, Bevelacqua said. This will allow easier access to all rooms in the building and allow more students to attend the daily programs.

It will have a sizeable gymnasium space, art rooms, Montessori classrooms, a Wii exercise space, a kitchen and a chapel.

“Our students attend prayer in the chapel every day at 3 p.m. They pray for the world and (for the) special intentions people submit. They prayed for (the late) Archbishop Kelly (who blessed the current center) daily,” Sister Bevelacqua said.

The center also worked out an agreement with TARC for a new bus route to the center’s new location since most students arrive by bus.

The new building will also meet the needs of the extensive Special Olympics athletic program that St. Mary’s operates. Currently, teams rotate between four different gymnasiums and fields for practices and games — when the building opens, those travel problems will disappear.

Planning for the new building has been in the works for the past five years, the women said.

Frank Otte, owner of Frank Otte Nursery & Garden Center and a parishioner of St. Patrick Church, donated the acreage for the building.

Also key to the project, Sister Bevelacqua said, is former Middletown Mayor Gene Holloway. Holloway came up with the building’s design and has acted as the project’s contractor.

To fund the project, St. Mary’s Center held several fundraising events and raised $340,000. The majority of the materials, and even the labor, are being donated, Sister Bevelacqua said.

St. Patrick Church, which is near the center’s new site, has agreed to fund the softball and practice fields and the new gym. The two groups plan to share the athletic space.

But additional items are still needed to make the new center a reality, said Sister Bevelacqua.

“Besides cash, we still need shelving, paint, appliances for the warming kitchen, chairs, tables, fixtures for plumbing, scoreboards, bleachers, a flag pole.

“And we really need labor. A lot of people are donating things like carpet, and we need help installing it,” she added.

The center continues to host fundraisers and recently raised $32,000 at its annual Swashbuckler’s Ball, which goes to the general fund at  St. Mary’s Center.

For Payne, the completion of this new facility is the culmination of a lifetime of work.

Land for the new St. Mary’s Center, 14207 Aiken Road, was donated by Frank Otte, owner of Frank Otte Nursery & Garden Center and St. Patrick Church parishioner. St. Patrick Church provided funding for the new gymnasium and softball fields. The two groups will share the athletic space.

“It’s a legacy we can leave. To have a brand-new facility is a dream,” she said.

Sister Bevelacqua agreed.

“This building is like Mary Jo said, a legacy. We’ve spent a lifetime trying to achieve this,” she said. “The legacy is not just ours, but for the special people we serve so they can have their own beautiful home away from home.”

Bevelacqua also noted the dozens of people, including parents, dedicated staff, the people of Middletown, volunteers and donors who have come forward to make this dream a reality.
“Without them, none of this would be possible,” she said.

To donate money, time or other needed items, contact Sister Bevelacqua by phone at 244-0082 or by email at regina@saintmaryscenter.org.

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