60th Anniversary Spotlight Series
July 26, 2016
In 1983, John Langer decided he wanted to become more active in the community so he chose to join the Cantalician Center for Learning Board of Directors. He spent 28 years on the Board until his term ended in 2011. Langer said Sister Raphael Marie's passion for people with developmental disabilities truly inspired him and she reminded him of the Nuns he'd encountered throughout his educational career. He also had a sister with Down Syndrome, so the organization really "struck a chord" with him.
During his term, Langer was able to watch the Cantalician Center become the "great" organization we know and love today. When he first started, the Board of Directors was more like an advisory board to the school and every final decision needed to be approved by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. In later years the Board would formalize and become more like a traditional, governing Board of Directors. Langer explained that the Board's real purpose was to support Sister Raphael Marie. He said they trusted her, felt she was fiscally responsible, and a very good decision maker so they supported all of her "cutting-edge" ideas.
"She was all business. Very quiet, very professional. She was a great leader who was always thinking and had this undying passion for people with developmental disabilities," said Langer.
According to Langer, Sister Raphael Marie made it her personal mission to get the community to treat people with disabilities with the same respect as anyone else. He recalled an instance where the company he was working at the time sent out a newsletter with the improper terminology for individuals with disabilities.
"She called me right up and said, 'You know, your company used a certain word that shouldn't be used to describe people with disabilities.' She told me to get them to fix it right away and I did," said Langer. "That was Sister Raphael though, always striving to educate everyone around her about treating people with disabilities with dignity and respect."
Langer has enjoyed seeing the world shift its views on how to treat and serve people with disabilities. When he was growing up the individuals he heard about were highly medicated, institutionalized for life, and not treated with respect.
"It's been like night and day. Day Hab groups came about and you could tell people with disabilities were happier, healthier and treated like the great human beings that they are. And it took decades of holding people accountable to get to where we are today," said John. "Seeing changes in my own sister, proved that the work we were doing at Cantalician Center was making a difference."
Langer explained that the most exciting thing to happen during his time on the Board was the purchase of the former Cardinal Dougherty High School Building on Hertel Avenue. The Board could see that the organization was outgrowing the store front that served as the workshop space next to the Main Street campus and their location at Central Park Plaza didn't seem like a good fit for the individuals.
The Cantalician Center purchased the Hertel Avenue site during a time when the City of Buffalo was working hard to sell-off former Catholic school buildings. The 61,336-square-foot facility served as the organization's Hertel Avenue site for years until it was sold in January of 2016.
"It was huge. It was a big deal to be purchasing this building," said Langer. "We were able to serve a lot more adults with disabilities and offer a place to provide meaningful work opportunities."
Langer recalled witnessing the agency delve into contract services. He said businesses seemed hesitant at first to trust people with disabilities to get the packaging work they needed done correctly, but the staff was persistent and the contracts began to come, including the one with 3M ocelo we still have to this day.
Langer served as the Vice President of the Board of Directors from 1997 to 2003 and then the President of the Board from 2004 to 2011. During the 1990s, Cantalician Center decided to get into the group home industry, but after many hurtles, he said the organization realized it wasn't for them.
"We decided to get back to our roots and strengthen the services we had been offering for years for children and adults with developmental disabilities," said Langer.
Over the years, the organization began to outgrow its Main Street campus. Langer said the focus of the Board meetings toward the end of his term were about finding an adequate space to grow. The building was also getting older and they wanted to find a more accessible space. They began to look at purchasing the former St. Barnabas Parish. The building that would become Cantalician Center's current Main/Academic Campus on George Urban Boulevard in Depew.
"We were operating under the mindset that we had to continue to grow in order to be at the forefront of offering high quality services for people with disabilities, so we felt moving the organization to a larger space would yield major benefits for years to come," said Langer.
Langer said the work they did over his time at the Cantalician Center deeply impacted the people they served. When his term on the board was up, he said he felt like the board was strong and the organization was in a great place.
"I think I definitely left the board on a high note. The Felician Sisters set a great foundation, the Board with the support of the Diocese made it stronger and the commitment of the staff set the trajectory toward success," said Langer. "I look forward to watching the agency grow and prosper for years to come."