Aspire of Western New York is housed in temporary space at a Maryvale School building in Cheektowga. But by September, a new state-of-the art Center For Learning will open nearby on Union Road.
As part of our Focus on Education reporting, WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says dozens of developmentally disabled Aspire students delivered a special 'thank you' Thursday to the John R. Oishei Foundation for a $500,00o grant to help build their new learning facility.
Students who cannot speak used smart board computer technology as they appeared at a celebration Thursday. Aspire announced it will match the Oishei grant through a capital campaign to help complete the $9.2 million facility.
Oishei foundation president Robert Gioia tells WBFO News the Aspire program truly speaks to the Oishei mission.
"This is a perfect example of maximizing the resources within the community so that it can be a regional asset and everyone can take advantage of it, because I don't think everyone does have the resources or the ability to do it individually," said Gioia.
Over 75-percent of Aspire students, ranging in age from 3-to-21, require assistance with wheelchairs or walkers. These are students, assessed by school districts, who cannot attend regular classroom settings. Aspire president and CEO Thomas Sy said their center is able to serve up to 40-area school districts in Erie and Niagara Counties.
"We have 90 school age slots and those are almost always full. We have a number of peer agencies that do similar programs. Everyone's focus is a bit different. Our's is that medical fragility in multiply disabled individuals. But -- the real missing piece has been the facility," said Sy.
Aspire Special Ed teacher Shantelle Songster teaches 6th and 7th graders who have a variety of disabilities.
"But I can't wait to get my students in there," said Songster. Songster says the new building will assist in teaching basic life skills.
"Some of these parents -- to have their kids one day maybe make their own sandwich or walk up to the sink and even put a sponge to a dish -- even though they might not wash it correctly, would be the greatest thing," noted Songster.
Aspire's Center For Learning has been providing education to the developmentally disabled for nearly 70-years.
This new learning center will feature special state-of-the-art technology, new physical therapy areas and a special climate-controlled environment that will assist with the physical disabilities students suffer.