Stories from the Center

PB&J Days at the Academy: A Role for Everyone

FAIRFIELD—Every third Friday morning you’ll find a lively group of students and staff from Saint Catherine Academy and volunteers from the Order of Malta engaged in a signature project: the creation of 300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport. 

“This is a project that provides a sense of purpose in multiple ways,” says Helen Burland, executive director, who proposed the community service idea—called “PB&J Fridays”—shortly after she came to Saint Catherine Center. “Our students are on the receiving end of so much service and generosity. We wanted them to experience the joy of giving back as well,” commented Burland. The Order of Malta was a willing partner, as it promotes hands-on involvement in the organizations that they support. Four or five volunteers from the order currently participate each month. The Center has even had guest “chefs,” including Bishop Caggiano.     
Read more and see photos …


“Patience, a Sense of Humor, and a Loving Heart”:  A Typical Day at Saint Catherine Center’s Adult Program

Fall 2018         On any particular day in the Adult Day Program at Saint Catherine Center, what you’ll notice is a sense of purposeful activity—and beneath that, a feeling of warmth and respect.

“Consistency and a calm atmosphere are key to having a ‘great day’,” notes Brenda DeMattio, Director. “A lot of factors go into maintaining that—starting with staff. Patience, a sense of humor, and a loving heart are required—all things you can’t teach. Our staff work really well together. They are awesome.”

The Day Begins

Staff arrive by 7:30 a.m. to review the day’s schedule and coordinate transportation runs for the day. Five vans, two of which are wheelchair-equipped, head out each morning with two staff to pick-up sites in Westport, Weston, Trumbull, Bridgeport, and Fairfield.

How the day is spent depends on each participant’s Individual Plan (“IP”), which is developed and reviewed every six months with their parent or guardian. Staff are assigned to participants on a rotating basis. Schedules are created in 15-minute to one-hour blocks. To build skills and maintain variety, time is balanced as much as possible between individual, small group, and large group activities. The first hour is usually spent getting settled and personal care goals, such as brushing hair and teeth. Ms. Yvonne, the nurse, is available to dispense medication or assist with any physical issues.

Wellness and Vocational Activities

Then, on a rotating schedule, some individuals go straight to the work-out room to spend time on the treadmill, stationary bike, or stretching. Others will be in the project room practicing sorting, packing, or shredding, among other activities—all transferable vocational skills. Others will make use of the kitchen and Life Skills Apartment to practice setting a table, emptying the dishwasher, or making the bed. Those who are able have some choice over what activity they want to do.

“There’s a lot of care-giving, but it’s not ‘custodial’. Our young adults are engaged—in whatever way they can be,” Brenda says.

Working Together

In addition to each participant’s goals, socializing and learning to work together are important benefits of the program at Saint Catherine. Whether it’s preparing lunch alongside each other, collecting the mail, or preparing the garden boxes for planting, teamwork is encouraged. There is usually a role of some sort for everyone to play. Staff work one-on-one with those who need it. For others, staff help to stimulate interaction.

Physical activity is important. In weekly music sessions with “Mr. Matt,” participants have the opportunity to express themselves, singing songs together, dancing, and playing drums. Another regular program, Theaterworks, engages participants to play roles in familiar stories. This fall, we will be offering some gentle yoga.

Offsite activities every week include bowling and swimming (followed by a pizza lunch!). A few of our participants volunteer at local sites, such as Gilbertie’s Herb Farm and Marshall’s, where they perform simple tasks. Regular outings to the petting zoo at Silverman’s Farm, a picnic at Sherwood Island, and other activities help our young adults adjust to new settings and enjoy each other’s company. (See our Facebook page!)

“The day is pretty much non-stop. The structure and a ‘Plan B’ gives us flexibility to go-with-the-flow if there’s a change in the schedule, or someone is having a hard time,” says Brenda.

To communicate with parents, each participant has a notebook where staff writes down highlights, concerns, or reminders. Parents can respond with notes of their own.

Around 2:30, after lunch and relaxation—such as a good game of Wii bowling—some parents begin arriving for pick-up, and staff bring the vans around for the others’ return trip home. The day is almost done—except for Brenda and Sonia Vielot, the Assistant Director, who put together the next day’s schedules.

Not every day at the Center is a “great” day, but there are usually great moments in each, revealed in small and large ways. As Lori Leskin, a Center parent, says, “Sami loves going out to the van each morning, peering in to see who is there to pick her up—usually with a big smile on her face. As a mother of a non-verbal child, seeing that smile on her face is extremely comforting, assuring me that she is happy to be on her way.”

And so we begin again, each day.


“Oh, What a Night!”

June 2018     The Annual “Joy and Gratitude” Dinner on June 10th at Fairfield University was hugely successful, attracting nearly 300 guests and raising over $300,000 in much-needed support for Center programs. (View the photos!)

The combination of a great Silent Auction, a unique array of Live Auction experiences, and the generosity of so many donors who raised their hands in the Call to Charity contributed to the event’s success. Funds raised in the Call to Charity will support the development of vocational and social enterprise opportunities for students and adult day participants.

Three individuals were recognized for their contributions of time and talent to Saint Catherine: the late Dan Caruso (Community Service); Eileen Blees (Volunteer Service) for facilitating gym class at the Academy the past 10 years; and Michael LaBella (Leadership), for his contribution as a Board member.

“It was a great evening in every aspect—the size of the gathering, the quality of the auctions and, of course, the guests,” noted Charles Chiusano, Chairman of the Board. “The food was excellent, and the results are a godsend!”

Guests enjoyed the relaxed, summertime atmosphere. Numerous attendees said the event was “the best one ever” for the Center. “This event is like a family reunion for a great cause,” said one guest. “I get to relax, catch up with friends, and support this wonderful organization at the same time.”

A special Thank You to all our Dinner Sponsors: Britta and Denis Nayden; GoldPoint Partners; Knights of Columbus Supreme Office; Dian Jennings Mayo; AEA; CrossBay Capital Partners, LLC; St. Aloysius Parish; St. Rose of Lima Parish; TD Bank, N.A.; and all our Table Patrons.

We also thank Kelly Weldon and the Dinner Committee for all their help and enthusiasm!

View more photos!



Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Spring 2018            Spring was definitely in the air for our “Cinco de Mayo” dinner dance Friday, May 4, at St. Pius Church in Fairfield. Our guests came from all over the Diocese for the popular event, which offers adults with special needs a fun, free evening together “out on the town”—dinner, socializing, and dancing included.

“I get to be with my friends tonight and I love it,” said Patrick, a participant in the Center’s adult day program.

The lovely paper flower centerpieces, created by Saint Catherine Academy students, were enjoyed by all. Once again, we thank our gracious group of teen volunteers from St. Andrews in Bridgeport for being our servers, and our outstanding DJ, Herb Ramirez.

Hosted three times a year by the Center, the Dinner Dance attracts more than 100 guests and is a much-anticipated event. If you would like to volunteer or help underwrite costs, please contact us at 203-540-5381, or