Skillbuilders Makerspace+ Offers Creative Hub for People with Disabilities in Chicopee, Region

From The Springfield Republican

Since its first developmental disabilities group home was built in 1994, ServiceNet has continued to expand its offerings as a nonprofit human services agency, assisting people who live with mental health challenges, intellectual disabilities and substance abuse issues, among other conditions.

With its new community-based day program, Skillbuilders Makerspace+, the agency on Front Street plans to give area residents with developmental disabilities and autism the chance to acquire new skills that they can develop into vocations or explore further. The agency held a ribbon-cutting for the program there Friday.

The program has been operating for three weeks in a 3,000-square-foot space, which was formerly a part of ServiceNet’s enrichment center. It offers activities in drawing, screen printing, basic coding, 3D printing, Lego engineering and more.

Some of the clients also can spend three days a week at the agency’s Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield, a therapeutic farm where they can pursue their agricultural interests.

The entire program sees about 10 clients a day, Monday through Friday, and serves 25 total, who receive assistance and work closely with staff members to develop different skills. Among its different programs, ServiceNet helps more than 8,100 people annually throughout Western Massachusetts.

For clients with learning disabilities, such as Abel Piquette, Skillbuilders provides him with a space to feel welcomed and where he can fit in with others. Piquette, who has a passion for drawing, said Friday that he is looking forward to meeting new people at the day program.

In addition to serving people with developmental disabilities, Skillbuilders also will serve as a community partner, said Shawn Robinson, director of vocational services for ServiceNet.

Robinson said the program will be collaborating with Fruit Fair supermarket on Front Street, once its rooftop greenhouses are installed. Clients from the program will be able to work there.

Sam Newell, co-owner of Fruit Fair, said staff intend to grow a lot of fresh produce with the clients and give them a worthwhile learning experience, too.

In addition to the community partnership, Robinson said the agency wants to allow the general community to use its classrooms. He said ServiceNet envisions developing a system that will allow the public to sign up online for an available space.

Robinson said there is not a lot of programming available for people with significant behavioral differences and believes that by offering space, they can come in with their guardian or an aide, and participate.

Excited for what’s ahead for Skillbuilders, Mayor John Vieau said the program gives people with disabilities an opportunity to showcase their potential. He said he values the partnership the city has with ServiceNet.

“They’re growing here in Chicopee and providing essential services for many, and people need those services,” Vieau said.

State Rep. Shirley Arriaga, D-8th Hampden, said she is hopeful that people will take the opportunity to explore the different programs and resources offered at Skillbuilders. Once an art kid herself who loved self-expression through different artistic avenues, such as pottery, Arriaga commended the program for offering art classes to its clients.

“We need to find new channels or more channels to express ourselves, and what better way than through art?” she said.

Read full article on MassLive.

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