NOTE RE COVID-19: Following recommendations from the CDC and the State of Connecticut regarding the coronavirus pandemic, we have tentatively targeted April 20, 2020 to reopen the Center. The safety of our students, young adults, and staff is our main priority. Please check back on this site for further updates.
Learning Leads to Independence
Our students come to Saint Catherine Academy to learn, to belong, to be recognized. We meet each student where he or she is, helping them to develop their interpersonal and academic skills, and take advantage of vocational experiences—all of which builds life skills needed for greater independence.
“Motivated by Faith and Committed to this Incredible Community”: A Message from Helen Burland, Executive Director
March 26, 2020
Dear Friends of Saint Catherine Center and Saint Catherine Academy,
As an organization with a mission to lift up all regardless of abilities, these have been very humbling times for all of us. Initially, it seemed that we would be able to continue to serve our students and young people with some modest restrictions. Then came the realization that this was not going to be possible and we made the very difficult decision to close the Center to provide for the health and safety of our students and adult participants, many of whom are medically fragile and our staff and their families.
We recognize the extraordinary burden that this places on our families and our limitations to ease that burden. But motivated by faith and committed to the incredible community at St. Catherine’s, we have rallied!
What have we put into action?
- We are providing education and program resources daily to our families to help bridge the time and maintain important skills through daily communication.
- We have offered the personal touch of phone contact to get better assessment of needs.
- We have recorded and shared stories with some key staff; we have shared music therapy videos through YouTube and we have offered art projects that are simple and home-based.
- We have created a new section on our website which offers all of these resources in one place.
- We have made a commitment to our staff that there will be no layoffs or furloughs through April and we will review on a month-to-month basis.
- We are caring for each other; praying for each other; supporting our learning community in ways we never thought of before.
All of this is possible because we have been so generously supported by you; we have been good shepherds of our resources and we have built a community that values each and every person in our broad circle. To that we say thank you for being with us; thank you for staying with us. We will continue to ask ourselves each day, “What can I do today to help?” As a reminder, here are the young people we support.
Helen C. Burland
“When we started the Library Program back in 2008, the idea was for the children to experience and enjoy books read out loud and learn to feel comfortable in a library,” said volunteer Virginia Dwyer-Aoyama. “Going to the local library is an ordinary life experience; we wanted Saint Catherine students to have that.”
Virginia had been approached by Jeanie Tisdale, who was then Area Chair of the Order of Malta, to see if she would consider developing a program for the library at the Academy, which had just received a grant from the Order for improvements. Virginia and Jeanie (pictured at right) met with Helen Burland, Executive Director, to discuss the possibilities, and the Library Program at Saint Catherine Center was born.
Led by a dedicated group of Malta volunteers, a weekly Library session is now part of the curriculum for all Academy classes. “The students learn how to listen and pay attention. They also learn about responsibility—how to choose and check out a book, take it home, maybe share it with their families and bring it back the following week,” Virginia said.
“The program is entirely volunteer-run,” said Helen. “It has been wonderful to see it evolve and become part of our curriculum. We so appreciate what all the volunteers do for us. It’s a big commitment and we depend on them.” In addition to Virginia and Jeanie, other regular volunteers include Carrie Sindelar, Christy Duggan, Judy Miller, and Ellen Arsenault. New to the program this year are Elena Schlegel, Chris Woods, and Julie Genovese.
The volunteers have learned how to be flexible and “go with the flow” according to the students’ needs. “The students come back from their library session excited,” said Sr. Cheryl Driscoll, one of the teachers. “The stories are fun and appropriate for them. They find words they can recognize and are using their skills.”
While improving reading and listening skills is important, having fun is key. Volunteers use singing and movement to make the stories come alive. “Five golden rings!” Ronald sang out at a recent session. He knew most of the words to “The 12 Days of Christmas” and his excitement helped other students join in the song.
“We’re always trying to gear our book choices toward something they love,” Virginia said. The “Pete the Cat” series by James Dean, in which a cat learns to make the best of various difficult and humorous situations, is very popular. Another favorite pop-up book, “The Color Monster,” by Anna Llenas, helps readers identify and cope with emotions. “Whatever we have, we make the most of it,” Virginia noted. “Books bring comfort, new ideas, different ways of dealing with situations. There’s a lot of joy and humor in reading, and the kids experience it.”
Participants in the Adult Program also use the library, borrowing a book to read or listen to as part of their daily schedule. Approximately a third of the young adults have independent reading skills, and all enjoy story-telling time when staff read aloud to the whole group.
After 11 years of volunteering in the library at the Center, both Virginia and Jeanie continue to find the work rewarding. “I love being with the students, getting to know them, and sharing time with them,” Virginia said.
Jeanie agreed. “For me, it is always perfect time… It comes, after all, from many years of rising up to meet the kids wherever they are. I always leave with so much more than I give.”
The Saint Catherine Center library is dedicated to Catherine McClinch, an Academy student who loved the Library program. When she passed away in 2016, her mother donated her books, which occupy a special section of the library.