Pathlight bringing programs to Northampton as Banta relinquishes reins

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, visits with Christina Kiely, left, and Tressa Meade, participants of Pathlight’s Milestones program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, stops by and visits with the participants of Pathlight’s Milestones day program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, gets a hello from Aidan O’Donohue, one of the participants of Pathlight’s Milestones program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, talks with left, Aidan O’Donohue, Cade Holden, and Chris Seifert, participants of Pathlight’s Milestones program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, talks with left, Chris Seifert, Aidan O’Donohue, and Cade Holden, participants of Pathlight’s Milestones program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, in front of the Whole Children building in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ruth Banta, the executive director of Pathlight, stops by and visits with the participants of Pathlight’s Milestones program at the Inclusive Community Center in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2022 6:50:08 PM
Modified: 1/11/2022 6:49:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON —As it marks its 70th year, the social service agency Pathlight continues to expand its reach across western Massachusetts with innovative programs for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities as it prepares for its next transition in leadership.

Even while receiving full-time ventilator support, one person served by the agency for the first time is living in a residential home in western Massachusetts through a program offered by Pathlight. The private nonprofit is also keeping people in homes rather than in institutional settings with designers decorating these places to give them a home-like feel, while offering the necessary support such as lift systems and roll-in showers.

“Pathlight is always innovating and working to enhance the lives of individuals and families we are serving,” said Ruth Banta, Pathlight’s executive director.

On Monday, Banta announced that she will be retiring at the end of March after nearly 20 years with the organization. She has been executive director since 2016.

Pathlight’s mission, Banta said, is to continue growing and innovating, focusing on the needs of both individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and supporting them and their families.

Pathlight was created in 1952 by five Hampden County mothers who, rather than sending their children to the Belchertown State School to be separated from their families, sought an alternative way to get them the services they needed.

Today, 320 people in the four western counties of the state are served directly by Pathlight in group homes, apartments and in foster care with families, while another 2,000 children, teenagers and adults are getting assistance through programs like Whole Children, Milestones and Autism Connects.

Pathlight operates with 520 staff and $32 million in revenue, and also has 165 care provider homes. It is largely funded by the state Department of Developmental Service.

Banta’s tenure as executive director has included revenue growth of 14% and a 22% growth in net assets, leaving Pathlight in a strong financial position.

She joined the organization in 2003 as chief financial officer and director of administration, at a time when her youngest son was diagnosed with autism, and she began talking to professionals about how he could get assistance. Banta transitioned to Pathlight after two decades in the banking and insurance industry.

Over the past few years, Pathlight acquired 13½ acres of previously state-owned land to replace two antiquated community homes with three modern five-bedroom homes for people with intellectual disabilities.

Pathlight also has enhanced Whole Children, located in Hadley, where recreational, social and enrichment programs are designed for children and young adults with disabilities. This has included adding the sexual education and relationship curriculum called Whole Selves, designed to give children skills to build and maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives.

The Milestones day program, also in Hadley, has grown by 55%, while there has been a doubling in adult services through Family Support and Autism Connections.

Banta has facilitated the purchase of a building at Village Hill in Northampton where Pathlight will be able to house these programs in one central location, as well as the communications department and the Family Empowerment Program. That site is expected to open later this spring.

The past nearly two years during the pandemic has meant many of its offerings have gone remote, a challenge especially for family-based homes, where drive-through trick or treating at Halloween and distribution of activity books has been done.

Banta said that Pathlight has used technology to evolve and offer more selections through its programs.

Hank Drapalski, president of Pathlight’s board of directors, praised Banta for her depth of knowledge and level of skill, and said in a statement that she will be missed.

“Ruth has committed herself wholeheartedly to our organization and has accomplished many great things during her career with Pathlight,” Drapalski said.

Banta will stay on into July to work with her successor for a smooth transition, though she is confident it will be in good hands.

“Pathlight is a strong organization that will remain vital,” Banta said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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