Pathlight celebrates opening of its new home on Village Hill

  • Some of the 80 people attending the ribbon cutting for Pathlight’s new Inclusive Community Center visit the sensory movement room during a tour of Whole Chlildren’s new home on Village Hill in Northampton on Thursday, June 30, 2022. From left are Milestones program manager Chris Harper, Milestones member Sari Hasan of Northampton, Liam Kent, 6, son of Whole Children and Milestones Recreation manager Amanda Kent, and Milestones member Aidan O’Donoghue of Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, top left, stops into the large activity room of Pathlight’s new Inclusive Community Center on Village Hill during a tour with Milestones program manager Chris Harper, second from left, and Milestones members, from left, Letitia Ward, Sari Hasan and Aidan O’Donoghue, after a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, June 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Milestones program members Aidan O’Donoghue, center, and Letitia Ward, both of Northampton, enjoy remarks by Pathlight Executive Director John Roberson, left, prior to a ribbon cutting for the new Inclusive Community Center on Village Hill in Northampton on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Mayor and former Pathlight spokeswoman Gina-Louise Sciarra, second from left, is joined by Milestones program members, from left, Sari Hasan, Aidan O’Donoghue and Letitia Ward, all of Northampton, in cutting the ribbon for the new Inclusive Community Center on Village Hill in Northampton on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Former Pathlight Executive Director Ruth Banta attends a ribbon cutting for the new Inclusive Community Center on Village Hill in Northampton on Thursday, June 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A kitchen adjacent to a cafe is located on the second floor of the new Inclusive Community Center, home to Whole Children, on Village Hill in Northampton. Photographed on Thursday, June 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Milestones program manager Chris Harper, right, and Milestones member Sari Hasan stop into the large activity room while leading a tour of Whole Children’s new home in the new Inclusive Community Center on Village Hill in Northampton on Thursday, June 30, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2022 9:58:34 PM
Modified: 6/30/2022 9:56:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Anyone up on the former Hospital Hill on Thursday afternoon would have known that something exciting was underway. Cheering, jubilant shouts and applause echoed across the parking lot on Village Hill Road, where Letitia Ward, 36, summed up the mood.

“I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time,” she said. “It’s so amazing.”

Ward and dozens of others were gathered Thursday for the official opening of the new building housing the Inclusive Community Center. Long based in Hadley, the center is owned by Pathlight — the organization that works with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism, and their families.

The new $3 million building hosts a wide range of Pathlight programs: Family Empowerment, Autism Connections, Milestones, Whole Children and Whole Selves. But for those who know those programs the best, the building is just exciting in itself.

“Boing, boing!” exclaimed Aidan O’Donoghue, 26, showing off a small trampoline in the new “big movement” gym. He was also excited about the cafe, where he listed off the possibilities in the new space. “A potluck dinner, that kind of thing.”

O’Donoghue began attending after-school programs with Whole Children when it first opened in 2004. As an adult, he now attends Milestones’ day program and was leading a tour of the building Thursday that included a beloved figure at the organization — Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, who previously worked as the communications manager for Pathlight.

“Come on, little mayor,” O’Donoghue joked as he moved the group between rooms.

Sciarra was on site for a tour of the space and a ribbon cutting. She described the center’s move to Northampton as “unbelievably meaningful for me.”

“Thank you so much for moving here,” she said. “I love my new job, but I miss you all every day.”

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 including Whole Children, Milestones and Autism Connects.

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

Historical significance

The location of the new building has a strong significance. It sits in the spot of the former gatehouse that led to the Northampton State Hospital, where those with intellectual or developmental disabilities were held in poor conditions away from their families.

Carrie McGee, who serves as the director of Whole Children, Milestones and Whole Selves, referenced the site’s history. She said she was honored by the movement that led to a more humane present, adding that those gathered will continue “working toward true, honest, respectful inclusion.”

“It’s an exciting time for us here,” Pathlight Executive Director John Roberson said to those gathered Thursday. “It’s been a lot of effort to make this day possible.”

That excitement was obvious as groups toured through the building. In one room, drums, guitars, keyboards and other band equipment sat ready to play, with a separate room where a recording studio will be.

The room will be where The Friendship Band will play, a group led by three teachers. Eddy Hougen, a program specialist with Pathlight, said people can often express themselves or say things while singing that they wouldn’t otherwise.

“People learn through music because of the rhythm and movement,” Hougen said.” “But a lot of it is about expression as well.”

The new building has many elements designed especially for Pathlight, with even the smallest details thrilling those who will use the space.

“They have a dishwasher, which is a good thing,” Ward said.

Valle Dwight, who is Pathlight’s director of development and communications as well as being O’Donoghue’s mother, said the Inclusive Community Center had been in Hadley for more than a decade. But when the organization’s lease came up, it became obvious that owning a building was the next step.

“We wanted to make sure we had a place that was permanent and set up the way we needed,” Dwight said. “Owning a building was a dream …

“Being in Northampton is great. We hope to be able to draw families we haven’t before from this side of the river while still keeping a home for everyone around the Valley.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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