On May 18th, the official ribbon cutting event for Imagination Station at Washington County Mental Health Services’ (WCMHS) WellSpace took place. The event was well attended, with Autism Puzzle Foundation board members present, a few local dignitaries, and of course a team from WCMHS that was incredibly excited to unveil this fantastic resource that soon will be available to WCMHS clients and anyone in the autism community across Vermont who has interest in utilizing this space.
The story behind this event is truly inspiring, and the story of what’s to come is equally so. The Imagination Station came to fruition from the dedicated work of the Vermont Autism Puzzle Foundation. Autism Puzzle Foundation is a charitable group dedicated to serving those with autism and raising awareness about its effect on children and families impacted by the disorder. Each year for the past ten years, the Autism Puzzle Foundation held an event to raise funds to provide education and services for Vermonters on the autism spectrum. Funds collected went to support the Autism Puzzle Foundation’s family grants for various groups throughout the state working with people on the autism spectrum. In the past ten years, they have raised and granted over $500,000. These funds have provided tangible support to children and young adults in Vermont. The Autism Puzzle Foundation’s vision is twofold: first, they wanted to change the way society views individuals with disabilities and secondly, they wanted to create a comfortable place for those on the autism spectrum. In the last ten years the Autism Puzzle Foundation has raised awareness in our community and statewide about autism and the issues children and young adults and their families experience.
After ten years of service, the board of the Autism Puzzle Foundation decided that they had met their overall goals and were ready to retire the foundation. The board really wanted to create a comfortable, fun place for those on the autism spectrum and they wanted it to benefit the local community. After initial communications between the Autism Puzzle Foundation and WCMHS, they offered a gift to WCMHS that the executive team and board of directors could not refuse. The Foundation gave the agency substantial funds to renovate 1200 square feet at Wellspace (23 Summer Street in Barre) and contracted with Flaghouse, a company that builds and designs elements for Snoezelen (more on this below) multi-sensory rooms, to install a state of the art space and provide training to staff and family members. And thus, Imagination Station was born! This will be the only space of its kind in the New England, and WCMHS is very pleased to now shepherd this wonderful community asset into the future. The Autism Puzzle Foundation President, Randy Lamberti said, “It was absolutely gratifying to see all the years of hard work come to fruition. It’s a great feeling to know that our legacy will live on in Barre for many years to come.”
The Snoezelen concept originated in Holland in the 1970’s as a recreational environment for adults with intellectual disabilities. The term Snoezelen is derived from two Dutch words meaning “to seek out or to explore” and “to relax.” The concept of Snoezelen is based on the idea that everyone needs quality leisure time. A Snoezelen room is a multi-sensory environment filled with lighting effects, shapes, textures, aromatherapy, soft music, and colors. This multi-sensory room creates a stress-free environment designed specifically for individuals with disabilities. The space is fun, interactive and can be tailored to each individual's needs and comfort level to ensure a positive, calming experience.
Thanks to the amazing work of the maintenance team at WCMHS, Imagination Station was completely ready for the May 17th Autism Puzzle Foundation ribbon cutting and open house event. The event was a complete success, with coverage by local news and television, with a live broadcast on the evening of the 17th on WCAX’s the: 30 show. Everyone was very pleased to see the incredible unveiling of this room, and it was clear from people’s reactions that this was a very special place indeed. WCMHS Executive Director, Mary Moulton, summed it up nicely when she said, “We’re so grateful to the community and grateful for Randy’s leadership, to our crew and to the Autism Puzzle Foundation, we’re going to make something special happen here.”
Now, the next step is to prepare for the WCMHS Open House on June 7th after which time the space will begin to be utilized. Since the Autism Puzzle Foundation ribbon cutting, many excited inquiries have come to the agency, and a core team is working to put a plan together so they can hit the ground running by mid-June. The basic plan moving forward is to have a therapeutically structured program that operates in the space Monday through Friday during regular business hours, and then to have a second option for families and other community members to use the space with a more leisure-based approach. Phil Wells and Heather Slayton, both of WellSpace at WCMHS, are working to create a system that will allow maximum use while maintaining Imagination Station’s intended purpose of relaxation, individualized settings, and fun! Through time, WCMHS and the Autism Puzzle Foundation hope to see Imagination Station used by anyone who could benefit from this multi-sensory room while maintaining the core usage for those who are on the autism spectrum.
Imagination Station is an example of what can happen when a group of committed people come together to better support and serve those with special needs. When a group like the Autism Puzzle Foundation collaborates with an agency such as WCMHS, where innovation and collaboration are central to the workings of the organization, you get a place as special and unique as Imagination Station. We here at WCMHS will be ever grateful to the Autism Puzzle Foundation for their generous gift, and this is a gift that will indeed keep on giving for a long time to come.
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