60th Anniversary Spotlight Series

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Cantalician Center for Learning will be sharing stories told by influential people in its history. The feature stories will highlight 60 years of excellence by taking an in-depth look at how Cantalician Center was formed, who was instrumental in helping it thrive, what services and programs were offered over the years and what's in store for the future...

The Davis Family

December 2016

Brayden Davis began attending Cantalician Center for Learning in 2011 after his parents heard from a friend of the family about the "wonders"Preschool Teacher Mrs. Shea O'Bear was doing in the classroom with her students with Autism. Grace Davis, Brayden's mother recalls taking a tour of the organization's former Eggert Road site with then school Principal Mike Kinz.

"There were murals on the wall, students were playing, and they were interested and engaged. It felt like the elementary school I went to as a kid," said Grace Davis. "After meeting Mrs. Shea, we felt so comfortable. It felt like I was talking to her mom to mom. That's when we knew our son had to go to Cantalician Center."

Grace explains the first day of school as a nerve racking one for her and her husband. She said leaving her 3-year-old, non-verbal son in the care of other people was terrifying, but their fears were quickly eased.

"There are no blueprints for how to do everything right as a parent, but I feel like we made the right choice by sending him to Cantalician Center. The staff were so patient with our son. Everyone has felt like family to us since the beginning," said Grace Davis.

In 2012, Cantalician Center moved their administrative operations and School Age programming to its current George Urban Campus in Depew. Grace recalls her son being very nervous and scared at the new building.She said he would act out by crying and running away a lot, but she said it was the staff that helped him adjust.

"It was touch and go for a while, but we were so glad to move into this building. It's nice and big. It has state-of-the-art classrooms that are equipped with smart boards and computers. Our son isn't really motivated by much, but he's a huge fan of technology use in the classroom," said Grace Davis.

In 2014, Brayden was chosen to take part in Cantalician Center's two-year pilot study for students to use speech generated software on an iPad. The goal was to provide students with an avenue for communication.Grace said Brayden clung to the iPad right away. She said it offered him the ability to have a voice of his own.

"This was a student in desperate need of a tool to bridge that gap between knowing what he wanted to say and being able to communicate it. He was someone with an extensive vocabulary, who couldn't use it. His other means were very limiting for him, often causing frustration, because he had so much to say," said Sue Ruska, Speech Therapy Head. "The speech software has given him the ability to facilitate use of that unlimited vocabulary. It's allowed him to express himself at home, in school, and in the community. Now he can socialize with peers, interact with his curriculum, express his thoughts, and so much more."

Grace explains that along with Speech Therapy, Brayden has been working regularly with the Occupational Therapy Department. Two years ago,the Davis' were told by medical professionals that Brayden was exhibiting issues with his behavior, but after working directly with the Cantalician Center Occupational Therapy department, they learned his issues were more sensory based. 

"The line between 'behavioral' challenges and sensory processing issues is often blurred,however many times if a student's sensory needs can be targeted they can learn how to regulate and manage their reactions to environmental input. Using this approach can truly impact the way that students interact with and learn from their environment. Brayden is a perfect example, thanks to the hard-work and dedication of his family and those who work with him," said Vito Gigante, OccupationalTherapy Head.

This year was the first year that Brayden was able to understand and accept the concept of Santa Claus due to the strides he's been making in the therapies.

"This was a huge milestone. Brayden was actually really excited about visiting Santa at the Mall. He kept calm and used his iPad to talk to Santa. He was able to tell him what he wanted for Christmas. After a few minutes they were going through the different word categories on the iPad together. It was beautiful to watch," said Grace Davis.

Last year, Cantalician Center decided to put out its first official yearbook. Grace recalls the joy the book brought her son. Grace said the yearbook was just like the one students receive in district schools. It had pictures of all of Brayden's classmates and friends in it. She said he loved it so much that they couldn't pry the book away from him.

"It's important for us that our son is happy and school makes him very happy. He loves going every day. When we walk in, in the morning, the older kids will say, 'Hi Brayden!' It's heartwarming to watch. The traditional school experience is something we never thought our son would have and we can say with confidence that he has that experience," said Grace Davis.

Cantalician Center is known for doing activities traditionally done outside of school during the school day such as carnivals, Thanksgiving feasts, and trick or treating. It allows the students to do things that other kids get to do that may be overwhelming for them in a public setting.

"We love that Cantalician does this, because things like trickor treating might be difficult to do in public due to sensory or behavior issues, but the students still get to experience it," said Grace Davis. "They also take the students on field trips to places like the Erie County Fair that are sometimes challenging for parents to handle alone. Because Cantalician does this, we feel like our son doesn't get to miss out on any activities and outings that other kids get to do."  

Today, Brayden is 8 years-old and continuing to make strides in a 3rd grade classroom setting with Cantalician Center Teacher Angela Babiak. Grace said she is excited for the future with the possibility of the formation of a Parent Teacher Organization as it will help to talk with other parents going through similar experiences with their child with disabilities.

"From our amazing Medicaid Service Coordinator, MSC, Wendy[Thompson] at Cantalician who is working with us to get Brayden out into the community more to its excellent on staff nurses who ease our fears when it comes to his medical needs. We are so fortunate that our son gets to go to Cantalician and we look forward to seeing him learn and grow for years to come.

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Cindy Sweeney

November 2016

Cindy Sweeney In 1988, Cindy Sweeney began volunteering at Cantalician Center for Learning alongside her mother, Dee Klemp who worked as the Director of Food Service at the organization's former Eggert Road facility. Sweeney would help with the annual craft show that took place at the school twice a year. The craft show held a special place in her family's heart.

"We would help [Felician] Sister Mary Gloria Lewandowski get ready for the craft show. It was a big deal. The event would take up the entire building. My mom would sell her chili chowder there and people would bring huge containers to buy some, "said Sweeney. "We loved doing it. Everyone was so great that it was worth the time and effort."

Laughingly, Sweeney told the story of how her sister Kim Ellman would help some of the Cantalician Center parents by watching their kids after school or on the weekends. She remembers her father getting a "kick" out of the fact that he would never know who would be at the dinner table from one week to the next.

"Children and adults with disabilities were so much a part of our lives. We never thought of them as different. They were just like everyone else in our family. We were taught to treat them with love and care just like you would your own family members," said Sweeney.

Cantalician Center, especially the Eggert Road site was like her second home. Sweeney recalls the Felician Sisters being so compassionate to her family after her father passed away in 1990. She said they we're very understanding to what her mother was going through at the time.

In 2004, after volunteering at Cantalician Center for many years Sweeney decided to come work for the agency full-time as the Head of Food Service. She worked under her sister Kim who took over for her mother who retired after more than 20 years of working at the organization.

"I just loved everyone at Cantalician. My whole family was involved there at some point over the years. My brother-in-law Mike Kinz was the principal at Eggert Road when I started working and at one point my brother filled in as the school nurse for a few weeks. It just felt like something I wanted to continue to be a part of as well," said Sweeney.

Sweeney recalls preparing for many thanksgiving luncheons over the years. Sweeney said it took weeks to plan and prepare for the meal as they would cook 10 large turkeys, tons of squash, stuffing, desserts; the "works." She remembers the staff and kids being so overjoyed with the thanksgiving feast.

"It was so much fun and the looks on their faces was everything. The kids were just so cute and the staff was so amazing. I just loved going to work every day," said Sweeney.

However, in 2009 Sweeney decided to move to Pennsylvania to take a job in production at Amazon, but after her husband passed away, she decided to move back to Buffalo to be closer to her family. It was at the wake for her husband that Felician Sister Paul Marie Baczkowski told her that if she was coming back to Buffalo that she should think about coming back to Cantalician Center. Sweeney recalls being disappointed when she applied and was told that she couldn't work at the Eggert Road site again, because State laws no longer allowed people to work alongside family members. But, because of her experience at Amazon it was suggested she try a different position in production at the organization's former Hertel Avenue site. In 2011, Sweeney took a "leap of faith" and came back to Cantalician Center.

"Darren [Lisicki] and Anne [Spisiak] were very understanding about my apprehension, because I felt like if I was going to come back to Buffalo and do what I did at Amazon, I had to really love it," said Sweeney. "Boy was I wrong though, the decision to come back to Cantalician and work on the employment services side was probably the best decision I've ever made."

Over the years Sweeney has seen a lot of changes, but she said nothing was as "big" as Cantalician Center rebranding its division of its employment services into Diversified Labor Solutions (DLS). The idea was to give off a more professional persona to its light-manufacturing and packaging customer base that includes, 3M ocelo, The Mentholatum Company, Chef's Restaurant, and Sonwil Industries. But, the primary reason for branching out was in response to the implementation of the New York State Office of People With Developmental Disabilities' (OPWDD) Transformational Plan to shift individuals with disabilities out of sheltered workshops and into their communities.

"My biggest fear when they told us we moving into Tri-Main was that we would lose people in this massive building, because we would no longer be in our secluded space, but I was proven wrong. Our individuals did so amazing with it. People don't give the capabilities of individuals with disabilities enough credit," said Sweeney. 

Sweeney passionately described DLS as a serious packaging business that provides a structured setting for its integrated employee base of individuals with disabilities and refugees. She said the employees know that they are depended on daily to provide quality work to make their customer 100% satisfied.

"The individuals know they get 30 minutes for lunch just like any other job. Being in the community has really been a teaching experience for them. They have come a long way. They use the building vending machines and restrooms on their own. They've done really well with it," said Sweeney.

Sweeney explains working with the local refugee population has been great to work with as well.  The language barrier can but difficult at time, but they've learned to manage. She said they are hard workers that work well alongside the individuals with disabilities.

"We really have an awesome staff and everyone works together. We are like the puzzle pieces that fit together so perfectly," said Sweeney.

Diversified Labor Solutions has even become the model for various agencies across New York State working to transition their individuals with disabilities into the community. Sweeney explains when people come for tours of DLS, they are shocked to see the "well-oiled machine" in action.

"We have taken on an enormous amount of work, we've increased our customer base, our profit has increased, we haven't stopped and we're still going. We've expanded beyond what we ever that would be possible," said Sweeney. "We actually bought everybody lunch in October when we met our monthly goal for the first time ever." 

Sweeney said she's excited to see Diversified Labor Solutions continue to grow and take on new customers that will give them a chance to prove that individuals with disabilities are excellent workers.

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Anne Reed

October 2016

Anne Reed It was January of 1986 when 21-year-old Anne Reed, also known as Miss Anne, began working at Cantalician Center for Learning. She started her career at the organization in the Family Infant Program at the former Eggert Road facility.

Miss Anne describes the infant room at the building as a warm and cozy space that was set up like a living room. It had couches, end tables, and a full kitchen area where families would bring their babies age's birth though 2-years-old for scheduled programming.

"The parents would remain in the room with their children while they received educational instruction and therapies so they could carry the techniques over into the home. They would also use this time to socialize and connect with one another," said Miss Anne.

In the early 1990s the agency offered a program for Teen Mom's where mothers with developmental disabilities learned how to take care of their own babies.

"We taught the young moms how to care for their babies by teaching them the basics of childcare like feeding and diaper changing. We would also teach them how to promote healthy child development through play," said Miss Anne.

One family brought their infant daughter with Down syndrome straight to Cantalician Center when she was born to begin working on improving mobility, cognitive, gross motor skills, and more.

"It was really common for parents to bring their babies right from the hospital to Cantalician. They really trusted the work that the organization was doing. They just felt comfortable putting their child in our care," said Miss Anne. Anne Reed

Miss Anne remembers various social gatherings happening at Cantalician Center in the late 1980s, including "Dad's Night" where twice a year where families would come to the Eggert Road facility and do organized activities in the gym with the art teacher and therapy department.

Miss Anne reflected on how things have evolved over the years at the organization. She said the preschool program went from being half-day to a full-day program with a lot of focus on independence and improving sensory skills in order to prepare students for Kindergarten.

During her time with Cantalician Center, Miss Anne has been very involved. For many years, she volunteered on the school committee for events. She also volunteered for years as the building representative for the Cantalician Center Professional Staff Association (CCPSA) and is currently serving as president of the association. When they were younger, both of her daughters attended the daycare and preschool program offered at the organization.

"I remember when my kids started going to school their teachers asking where they went to preschool, because they were so helpful and understanding to kids with disabilities. I loved hearing that. I was so proud to tell them they went to Cantalician," said Miss Anne. 

Anne Reed Over the years, Miss Anne went from working with the Family Infant Program to working in the self-contained setting, to where she's been teaching for 15 years alongside Cantalician Center Teacher Assistant Betti Young, also known as Miss Betti, in the Integrated Preschool Program. Miss Anne and Miss Betti have been referred to as the "dynamic duo" over the years. They are still known as the class that walks "so nicely" in the hallway to this day.

"It's so rewarding seeing how the students' progress from the first day of school to the last. They are so grown up by the end of the school year that they're like completely different people," said Miss Anne. The Garden at Eggert Road

The "dynamic duo" spoke fondly about their time at "Eggert Road." They recalled the garden that they planted behind the building that was so large one year that the cafeteria workers used the vegetables for the school lunches. Miss Anne and Miss Betti also reminisced about the students that they still remember to this day. They detailed the story of one student who started preschool as a nervous, shy little boy who would never associate with other students, would rarely eat, and had difficulty communicating his needs.

"He would walk around the perimeter of the playground and classroom, he kept to himself, too. By the end of the year, he was thriving on our routine and it allowed him to come into his own. He was communicating effectively, playing with other kids, climbing on the playground equipment and liking new foods. His story still amazes us," said Miss Anne.

Miss Anne said she still keeps in touch with many of the families and students she's worked over the years. She said many of whom still send her and Miss Betti heartwarming notes of appreciation that leave them with a sense of pride for the work they do. Anne Reed and Betti Young

Miss Anne spoke of her mother passing away 10 years ago this year, after the October Storm. She said it was her Cantalician Center family that was by her side during the difficult time.

"My mother lived in the same neighborhood as [Cantalician Center] school nurse, Patty Schmidt. It was a rough time for me, but during all the chaos I turn around and there was Patty to give me a hug and see how I was doing. I will never forget how amazing everyone was," said Miss Anne.

Miss Anne said her Cantalician Center family has always been there for her and her family through the good and bad times. She said they really are like her second family.

Anne Reed and Betti YoungWhen Cantalician Center moved to its current location on George Urban Boulevard, Miss Anne recalled entering her new classroom very excited and amazed at how many boxes were in the middle of her new room. She recalled people laughing at how much stuff she and fellow Cantalician Center Preschool Teacher Linda Shoemaker brought over to the new building. Miss Anne said their piles were just a testament to how long they've been working with the organization.

It's been three decades since Miss Anne began working with Cantalician Center, but time doesn't really affect anything, because each year when school starts she feels "reenergized" all over again.

"Betti and I start every year off teaching the kids that we're like a little family in our class and that it's important to be respectful to the members of your family. That family oriented feeling at Cantalician is what keeps me excited to be here and it's the feeling we've always tried to pass along to our kids year after year. We want them to know that this family will always be there for them," said Miss Anne.

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Juan Rodriguez

September 2016

Mollie Rodriguez and Juan RodriguezSinging "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from the Lion King alongside his girlfriend Mollie, 19-year-old student Juan Rodriguez reflected on his time at Cantalician Center for Learning. Juan began going to Cantalician Center in 2001 when he was 5-years-old. He remembers starting his educational journey being taught kindergarten by Teacher Colleen Christman when the organization owned the Jack Kelleher Building on Eggert Road.

Juan then recalls going over to Cantalician Center's Main Street campus for first grade. He said he loved playing in the school gym and swimming in the onsite pool.

"I remember it felt big there," said Juan Rodriguez. "I loved swimming. And I remember playing the piano in music class and listening to Ms. Delores sing in the chapel."

When Cantalician Center moved to its current location on George Urban Boulevard in 2012, Juan recalls feeling a bit nervous and shy, because the building was new to him. Media Integration Specialist Amber Stasio has been working with Juan since 2009. She helped Juan acclimate to the new building and still works with him in the school library today.Juan Rodriguez

"I have seen Juan grow by leaps and bounds. Some days it blows my mind. Every day he tells me about a new job or volunteer opportunity. He loves supporting his peers by helping them use assistive technologies. He has great singing and acting abilities, and now we get to see it on the stage here, especially when he was the Gennie in Aladdin and Simba in the Lion King. That was so cool," said Amber Stasio. "I'm just so proud of Juan. I can't wait to see what his future holds. The world is his oyster and I know he's going to grab it with gusto." 

Juan has learned so many skills over the years that he is able to volunteer through Cantalician Center's school work program at various organizations across Western New York, including a senior care center in Tonawanda and DeGraff Memorial Hospital. Juan also participates in the SABAH Celebration on Ice each year, he volunteers at his church, and is enrolled in the Civil Air Patrol program at the Niagara Falls Air Base.

Juan Rodriguez"I go to the Civil Air Patrol on Friday's after school. We watch the planes take off and come in, do maintenance, and close up the place," said Juan Rodriguez. "They make sure I'm doing well in school too."

Volunteer opportunities aren't the only thing filling up Juan's schedule. He works at The Teachers Desk learning how to sort and package school supplies and fill orders for customers. He also works at Diversified Labor Solutions, a division of Cantalician Center's employment services, once a week learning light manufacturing and packaging skills.

"I like working because I get to see a lot of my friends that graduated already. They are making money now. I love making money too," said Juan Rodriguez. 

Cantalician Center Teacher Julie (Wojcik) Weingarden, known to her students as Mrs. Julie, said Juan and his peers are not limited.

"If the students dream it, we help them achieve it," said Julie (Wojcik) Weingarden.Mollie Rodriguez and Juan Rodriguez

Mrs. Julie said that this year was the first time she encountered students in her own class dating. She said she didn't know how to approach the topic at first, but she said she knew she had to tackle it head-on, because even though she is their teacher, she's also their "support system."

"I think it's important for the students to learn about healthy relationships. It's important for them to know that they are allowed to date just like any other student in high school. I keep it simple though. I teach them that they don't have to tell each other they love one another every five minutes to know that they do," said Julie (Wojcik) Weingarden. "The experience they get at Cantalician Center isn't solely academic. We teach them real life skills, including relationships, how to handle a breakup, how to deal with death. We really want to prepare them for the future."

Juan's ultimate dream for the future is to be a magician and live in a mansion with Mollie, of course, but he will be "happy" being a mechanic and doing magic shows in his spare time just as long as he gets to marry his high school sweetheart, Mollie. Juan said he knows he has to graduate from Cantalician Center, go to a trade school, get a job, and make money first before any of that is possible.

"I love Cantalician. I love the teachers, I feel safe, happy, and they help us learn about everything," said Juan Rodriguez.

Juan and Mollie both agreed they wish they could never leave Cantalician Center. However, they know that one day they will have to, but they know that they can always reach out to any of their Cantalician Center teachers for help if they need it.

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Kevin Tomasik

August 2016

Kevin TomasikKevin Tomasik began volunteering at Cantalician Center for Learning in 1986 at 13-years-old. His parents were in charge of a group at the organization that would go on outings with children and adults with disabilities on the weekends. His aunt, Felician Sister Mary Patricia Tomasik put out the call for volunteers for the weekend program so his Mom "signed him up."  

"When my mom told me I was going to be volunteering on the weekends, I didn't even blink. I didn't know any other way, but to help out when people need it. I also think my mom thought it would keep me out of trouble," said Tomasik.

The group would go on excursions across Western New York to places like the Buffalo Zoo and area parks. They would frequently visit the farm house and property that Cantalician Center used to own in Clarence. He recalls helping his dad create hiking trails in the woods for the individuals to walk and do cross-country skiing in the winter. The group would also have picnics, do crafts, games, and cook at the farm house. Kevin Tomasik (First row, second from right)

"We would pick the individuals up with the yellow school bus in the morning and take them out for the day," said Tomasik. "I grew up with the individuals who went on these outings, some of whom are still at Cantalician today. They were my friends."

A number of Tomasik's family members would go on to work at Cantalician Center over the years. His mother taught at the Main Street site, his brother was a counselor for the day habilitation program, his two Cousins worked at the Eggert Road facility, and another aunt worked as the executive secretary for the organization.

"When the sisters said they needed help, my family would step in. I think at one point me and my brother were on the school basketball team," said Tomasik. 

In 1988, Tomasik started volunteering in the classrooms at organization's Main Street and Eggert Road facilities. It was at that Kevin Tomasik (Second from right)age that he saw a girl having a seizure for the first time and learned what to do and how to help in that situation. He said it was a nerve-racking experience that he will "never forget." Tomasik also assisted the maintenance crew with their needs. Tomasik recalled helping with the demolition of the Hertel Avenue site before it underwent renovations.

"I tore up ceiling tiles, I jackhammered the floor, I helped takedown the garages, and put in the new bathrooms. We tore apart the whole library section that used to be there. We knocked down the old wooden shelving, knocked out the old windows and threw all the old books and lockers out the window," said Tomasik.

When he turned 16-years-old, Tomasik was officially hired as a cleaner at Cantalician Center, working under the head of the cleaning department, Jim McCarthy. Tomasik recalls working nights at the Sister Raphael Marie building at the Main Street campus. He said he would go to school during the day and left school, sometimes during study halls, to go to work at Cantalician Center.

"I was pretty much at Cantalician anytime I had a free moment," said Tomasik.

When Tomasik graduated high school he left the area to go to college in Texas, but later move back home to Buffalo. During a visit to Cantalician Center, he ran into the director of the workshop whoKevin Tomasik (Center, fourth from the left) asked him to come back to work at the organization as a maintenance trainer. 

"I worked that for a little while training the cleaning crew, then I went on to become a production supervisor at the workshop and then production manager," said Tomasik.

Tomasik recalls other "hilarious" moments from over the years, like crickets coming into the building in the morning, chirping away as they worked, woodchucks burrowing by the windows, ripping up the lawn, and staff members getting delivery trucks stuck under bridges.

"Funny things like this only happen at Cantalician," said Tomasik.

Kevin Tomasik Over the years, Cantalician Center would introduce new services as New York State passed down various directives. Tomasik said at one point the organization had a program that assisted individuals with head injuries and then there was a senior focused program before the day habilitation program was available.

While working as a production manager, Tomasik describes constantly being asked by the maintenance crew how to fix and handle certain situations. He recalls the current director of employment services, Darren Lisicki taking him aside and asking him if he was interested in taking a job as the maintenance supervisor.

"I never thought I would be here, working as the facilities manager today. It just happened that way. There were other opportunities over the years, but I love what I do and I love the people. It was never worth it for me to go anywhere else," said Tomasik.

Tomasik explained that growing up it was natural for him to be around the Felician Sisters and people with disabilities. He would see the Sisters dressed in full religious habit and then when they were just hanging out watching television in their sweatpants. The Felician Sisters taught him that children with disabilities were "God's special children" and that they deserved respect. He said that is why he always felt very comfortable around them as well.

"I have been at Cantalician my whole life. Everyone here is like family. So, as long as I live, there will always be a special place in my heart for Cantalician," said Tomasik.

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John Langer

July 2016

John LangerIn 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."

(Left to right) Terese Scofidio, John Langer, Patrick Walsh & Bob Laughlin (2011)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."

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Jack Spranger and Joe Kamrowski

June 2016

John "Jack" Spranger Jr.For 60 years, Cantalician Center for Learning has been striving to serve individuals with disabilities from a very young age into their retirement years. John "Jack" Spranger Jr. and Joseph "Joe" Kamrowski are two individuals that truly exemplify the achievement of that goal. The two are the organization's longest attending individuals. 67-year-old Jack started at Cantalician Center in the late 1960s when he was around 20-years-old. He worked in in a number of the agency's work opportunities throughout his career. He recalls packaging parts and assembling boxes for product.

"I loved it when the workshop was at Hertel Avenue. I would work and eat lunch with my friends every day. It was nice," said Jack.John "Jack" Spranger Jr. (Second from Left)

In 2009, Jack decided it was time to retire. Today, you will find Jack enrolled in Cantalician Center's Day Habilitation (Day Hab) program where he is enjoying every moment of his retirement. Jack said his favorite time of day is craft time because he loves to paint.

"I love doing puzzles, spending time outside. We do a lot of picnics and cookouts," said Jack.

Jack said he plans to attend the Day Hab program for years to come. The program offers someone like Jack who is at the age of retirement a routine that suits his needs. He attends the program Monday through Friday.

"We really try to be flexible when it comes to the needs of our individuals, especially those at retirement age. Our goal is to provide person-centered care and the best quality of life no matter what they choose to do," said Wendy Thompson, Jack's Medicaid Service Coordinator.

However, 64-year-old Joe Kamrowski choose a different path for his retirement. Joe began attending Cantalician Center in 1956 as a student until he graduated in 1972 at 21-years-old. During his time at the school, Joe recalled the Felician Sisters being "tough" on him.

Joseph "Joe" Kamrowski"I used to get in trouble a lot. I don't remember why, but I just know the Nuns kept me in line," said Joe.

After graduation, Joe was determined to work and earn a paycheck. He said he "bounced around" for a while until he ended up right back at Cantalician Center where he would experience a long, successful career.

"I remember working at the workshop on Main Street next to the school building, then we were at the Central Park Plaza, then we worked at a place in Kenmore and then we ended up on Hertel Avenue," said Joe. "I think I liked when we were on Main Street near the University the most, because we got to walk around that neighborhood and take the bus to places. That was fun."

The majority of his career was spent packaging 3M ocelo sponges and TRICO windshield wiper blades, sorting small parts and putting together boxes. Joe said he really liked getting a paycheck, but lunch time was his "favorite" time of day.Joseph "Joe" Kamrowski (Second from Right)

"One of Joe's greatest qualities is his sense of humor. He used to joke that work was the worst, but I don't think he ever missed a day of work. Rain or shine, he came to work on time every day at Hertel Avenue. He was very committed," said Anne Spisiak, executive director of the Cantalician Center. 

Joe also recalled great memories at the annual Alhambra Picnic. He said it was the highlight of the year. 

"Everyone came to the picnic. There would be good food, music and games. It was at the Main Street campus for a long time and then the Eggert Road building," said Joe.

The Order of Alhambra Cordova Caravan #26 Corporation has been putting on the "Alhambra Picnic" at Cantalician Center for more than 40 years. Today, the event takes place at the Cantalician Center's Academic Campus on George Urban Boulevard. Joe said he attended every Alhambra Picnic until his retirement.

Joe was enrolled in the Cantalician Center's Employment Services until his retirement in 2013. Today, you will find Joe enjoying his retirement by exploring his North Buffalo neighborhood every day.

"I'm retired now and it's going good. I take walks every day and I like going to Louie's for lunch. Lunch time is the best part of the day, you know," said Joe.

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The Walsh Family

May 2016

Pat Walsh Sr., Patrick Walsh Jr., and Kathie WalshThere have been many families with deeply connected roots throughout Cantalician Center for Learning's history. The Walsh family was one of those that have spent the majority of their lives investing time and energy into the agency's mission. Kathie Walsh began working at Cantalician Center as an educator in 1971. Her first son, Patrick Walsh Jr. was born in 1974. Kathie and her husband Patrick "Pat" Walsh Sr. felt there were some delays with their baby boy so they took him to several pediatricians for advice.

Finally, after multiple opinions, the Walsh's decided that Patrick Jr. would be in the "best hands" at Cantalician Center who was starting up a new infant day program at their Main Street facility at the time. Kathie said Felician Sister Raphael Marie's vision was to serve individuals with developmental disabilities from "cradle to grave." Patrick Jr. ended up being the very first baby enrolled into Cantalician Center's new infant program.

"We had this inherent trust of the Sisters. Sister Raphael Marie was a Registered Nurse and so was Sister Laurita who ran the infant program, so we just trusted them," said Pat Walsh Sr.

The school offered families specialized programs such as Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapies. The staff worked with Patrick Jr. on things like walking and muscle strength. They worked on building up his physical strength for years until he finally sat up on his own at 3-years-old.

When the Walsh's second child was born in 1977, Kathie decided it was best to stay at home while her children were young and leave her teaching job at Cantalician Center. She remained an active volunteer with the organization for years and is still willing to help in any way until this day.

In 1974, Pat Sr. began volunteering with Cantalician Center. He served on the Board of Advisors from 1979 to 1983, when Sister Raphael Marie asked him to be on the organization's first official Board of Directors. Pat Sr. served as President of the Cantalician Center Board of Directors from 1983 until 2004. He recalled a list of accomplishments and memories from the 21 years he served on the Board.

Patrick Walsh Jr.The Cantalician Center opened its Eggert Road location in the first few years Pat Sr. was President of the Board. The building was opened to house the Pre-K and infant programs. The programming for the agency's youngest students remained there until 2011 when the George Urban Boulevard location was purchased.

The agency later grew to open its first Workshop program to allow people with developmental disabilities to have employment opportunities in a store front next door to its old Main Street campus. The former Workshop space is occupied by a hydroponics shop today.

"The thinking behind opening a Workshop was to serve individuals with disabilities after they graduated. It gave them a meaningful job to report to," said Pat Walsh

The Workshop moved from the store front on Main Street to Central Park Plaza for a short time allowing Cantalician Center's individuals to work in the heart of the community. This was until the organization purchased the former Cardinal Dougherty High School Building on Hertel Avenue. The 61,336-square-foot facility would become the agency's last home for its Workshop before the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities required all Workshop's across the state to be transformed as part of its Transformational Plan to integrate people with disabilities into community based settings. The Hertel Avenue site was sold in January 2016.

The opening of the Workshop was one of the "biggest" things to happen during his tenure on the Board said Pat Sr. But, he said it was worth all of the time and effort to make Sister Raphael Marie's idea come to life. He described Sister Raphael as a smart and caring woman whose motivation kept the organization going.

"She was determined," said Pat Walsh Sr. "She was always thinking of new ideas and the board really supported her and tried to make her vision for the future come to fruition."

Pat Sr. said as the agency tried to expand its services it faced resistance and misunderstanding from the community. He said people were afraid of individuals with developmental disabilities coming into their neighborhoods.

"When Kathie and I were growing up, we rarely encountered someone with developmental disabilities, because it was so common that they were institutionalized at a young age," said Pat Walsh Sr. "The world has come lightyears in their understanding and acceptance of people with developmental disabilities and it's great for me to see in my lifetime."

Patrick Jr. graduated from preschool at Cantalician Center when he was 6-years-old and went on to attend a different program. He came back to the organization when he was 21-years-old. Today he attends Cantalician Center's Day Habilitation Without Walls program three days a week and works at Diversified Labor Solutions, the organizations division of employment services two days a week.

"I love volunteering at the Salvation Army, going to the YMCA, and packaging rubber parts and 3M sponges at Tri-Main Center," said Patrick Jr. "I really like it there."

Pat Sr. recalled "great times" serving on the Cantalician Center Board of Directors with key players such as Jack Kelleher, Dick Hull, Mike Flynn and John Langer.

"We all just felt connected to the agency and the mission," said Pat Walsh Sr. "We all went to Catholic School and were taught by nuns so when we were working with Cantalician and Sister Raphael would cook up an idea, we supported it."

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The Kelleher Family

April 2016

John "Jack" Kelleher began volunteering with Cantalician Center for Learning in 1961 before the agency was officially incorporated. It was the year his 5-year-old daughter Maureen Kelleher first enrolled at the organization. The Kelleher family was referred to the Cantalician Center by long-time family friend and former school Chaplain Rev. John T. O'Shea.

"Maureen is legally blind and hearing impaired so Father O'Shea felt the Cantalician Center would be the perfect place for her to go to school," said Mary Ann Kelleher, wife of Jack and mother of Maureen.

Jack was a "well-respected" leader in the organized labor trade and a Business Agent of Asbestos Workers, Local #44 from 1972 until his retirement in 1992. His expertise in the trades and concern for his daughter compelled him to get more involved with the organization. Jack was the President of the Cantalician Center Parents Guild in the 1960s. The Parents Guild was comprised of parents and friends of the agency. Its mission was to help parents "adjust" to the stresses of having a child with disabilities. The Guild would meet monthly at the former school building on Main Street to allow parents to socialize or listen to lectures on ways to help their children.

From 1983 through 1995, Jack also served on the Cantalician Center Board of Directors and unofficially held the title of Board President in 1967. He was very connected in the local community and instrumental in helping take care of Cantalician Center's former Eggert Road facility. One year, he even spearheaded a project to replace the windows at the building.

Mary Ann Kelleher believes it was Jack's "gift of gab" that kick started his long volunteer career at Cantalician Center.

"Jack was very outgoing and very involved. He supported the things the Felician Sisters were doing with the school," said Mary Ann. "There was something about Jack that made him easy to talk to and he got things done."

But, it was more than the mission of providing services to children with disabilities that drove the Kelleher family to be involved at Cantalician Center. Mary Ann recalls enjoying the yearly spaghetti dinners and times when families would get together every Saturday night to celebrate birthdays or socialize at the school on Main Street.

"There would be a nice meal. Sometimes the people that prepared lunch for the kids would leave us some delicious leftovers. The kids enjoyed it, but so did we. We needed it," said Mary Ann.

With a big smile on her face, Mary Ann talked about the many occasions where the Felician Sisters would find Maureen exploring the third floor at the Main Street building.

"They would tell me, 'Maureen was found exploring the building again.' Jack and I would just laugh. We never did find out what was on the third floor, but we thought it was very funny that she was so fascinated with going up there," said Mary Ann.

Jack passed away on September 1, 1995. The Cantalician Center dedicated its former Eggert Road facility to him on March 12, 1996 in commemoration of the work he did for the organization.

"All five of our kids were there. We got a kick out of it. They were very proud of their father. He was well-liked and had a great personality," said Mary Anne. "You don't expect a person to have a building named after them. I still pass by it today and feel very proud of him."

After Jack passed away, Mary Ann served on the Cantalician Center Board of Directors from 2000 to 2004. Their daughter Nancy Kelleher Craig also held a seat in 2005.  Mary Ann says when Maureen was little they would worry about what she would do after graduation, but "thanks to Cantalician they knew what to do with her" and she is still thriving today. Maureen is still with Cantalician Center working at its new division of employment services, Diversified Labor Solutions.

"Maureen works very hard. She doesn't like to sit around or socialize. She loves working and making money. The family is proud," said Mary Ann.

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Joe Grgas

 March 2016

Marie Grgas and Joe Grgas61-year-old Joseph "Joe" Grgas started at Cantalician Center for Learning on September 6, 1961 as a student in Mrs. Yeager's first grade class and is still with the organization today. However, before coming to Cantalician Center, Joe's parents were faced with a very difficult decision. Four year-old Joe had been being tested for mental delays by doctors at the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Buffalo when the doctor concluded that he should be placed in an institution.

"The doctor told my mother to think of her other children's safety. She was horrified, but back then it was so common to give your child up if they had delays. At that time, they didn't know anything about autism spectrum disorder," said Marie Grgas, older sister of Joe Grgas.

The facility that doctors suggested Joe be sent to was the Willowbrook State School in Long Island that ended up being the subject of investigation in 1972 by Geraldo Rivera for deplorable living conditions, overcrowding and abuse. After seeing the horror in Mrs. Grgas' eyes, one Rehab Center employee stepped in and referred her to the Cantalician Center. It was the week before Joe was to be sent away that they met with Felician Sister Mary Angela Betke.

"I remember Joe sitting on a chair in Sister Angela's office swinging his chubby little legs back and forth. Sister Angela looked over at him and then looked at my mother and said he could start next week... My parents were so unbelievably happy," said Marie Grgas.

Sister Raphael Marie and Joe GrgasIn Mrs. Yeager's class Joe recalled learning basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. During 1960s there weren't official grade levels so he was in a class with many students around his age. Joe was non-verbal until he was 9-years-old, but remembers Sister Luciose working with him on his speech. Marie recalls the first time her brother spoke...

"We were cleaning up after dinner and Joe looked out the window and pointed up at 
the moon and said, 'Bóg's moon', which means Gods moon in Polish. 
The Sisters were Polish so of course the students learned a lot of Polish. 
Even though he didn't speak entirely in English yet, my parents were just thrilled he spoke," 
said Marie Grgas.
 
Over the years, Joe remembers going on many outings with Sister Restituta. He says she was very strict, but he 
loved the places she took them.

"We would go bowling at the Knights of Columbus, the grocery store, outside. We would go to Strykersville a lot to pick chestnuts and pumpkins. The one time we went to Marine Land. That was the best field trip I've ever been on, because I got to see the dolphins," said Joe Grgas.

Joe GrgasMarie Grgas began volunteering with her mother at Cantalician Center when she was 14-years-old. They regularly worked in the cafeteria helping to prepare hot meals for the students. Marie recalls the Sisters being "lovely" to everyone.

"I couldn't get over how organized it was there [at Cantalician Center]. The students were so behaved. It was just a fun place to be," said Marie Grgas. "And still to this day Joe still requires a hot lunch every day."

Joe recalls Sister Angela's dog, Kansas and Sister Restatuta's dog Lesha acting as therapy dogs for the school. He says the students "loved the dogs." The Sisters also taught them the importance of helping their peers. He was assigned to help a visually impaired classmate with meal times and getting dressed for outings.

1966 was a turning point in Joe's life. He recalls Sister Adorata giving him a Polish calendar. Marie believes it was that calendar that helped him discover his love of history and shaped Joe into who he is today. Joe has the unique ability of remembering specific dates, names and faces. This skill has become a joy for many at Cantalician Center to experience.

"I remember seeing Joe again after 10 years had passed and he remembered my name, my birthday and the fact that I was born on a Tuesday," Anne Spisiak, executive director of the Cantalician Center. "It has been incredible to experience his unique talent."

In 1968, Joe recalls working at an off-site workshop where his manufacturing skills were being tested. The photo of this skills test is still well-known today and can be seen on the Cantalician Center website and marketing materials.

In the 1970s, Joe remembers teachers such as Mr. Emil Janiszewski teaching students skills such as cutting wood, shoveling snow, and maintenance in their Industrial Arts class. Joe says his favorite job with Cantalician Center was in 1974 when he worked at the Lockwood Library on the University at Buffalo campus cataloging books. During his time, Joe says he found over 300 mistakes in their card catalog.

"My parents were always very happy to see the school experimenting with what Joe could do. They didn't give up on him when so many others wanted to," said Marie Grgas.

Today, Joe is working at Diversified Labor Solutions, a division of Cantalician Center's employment services. Joe says he enjoys working with his hands and making money.

"If my parents were alive, I'm sure they would be very happy to see what Joe has done in his life and it's because of the great faith of the Cantalician Center that he has accomplished so much," said Marie Grgas.

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Sister Mary Francelita Machnica

 February 2016

Sister Francelita and Sister Paul MarieIn 1944, the Felician Psychological Clinic opened across the street from Villa Maria College where Sister Mary Angela Betke did psychological testing on students in both public and Catholic schools, offered guidance to parents and held a remedial reading clinic, but due to the lack of space she was only able to assist 12 individuals in "great need."

Sister Mary Francelita Machnica known as Sister Francelita didn't begin working at Cantalician Center until 1990, but remembers the work of her fellow Felician Sisters well.

"I remember Sister Angela walking across the street in the winter with her big black brief case in hand ready to help those children and families who needed her most." said Sister Francelita.

It wasn't until 1956 that the Diocese of Buffalo asked the Congregation of Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice (CSSF) known as the Felician Sisters to open a school for children with disabilities in the old Little Seminary building on Main Street and Cantalician Center for Learning was born. The community was so eager for Cantalician Center to open that over 200 students were registered for the new school, but only 21 were accepted at the time, because the building was not completed. Finally, in 1957 the building and grounds on Main Street were dedicated by Bishop Joseph Burke as Cantalician Center for Learning.

In the following years, other programs were added to the organization's offerings, including the first occupational therapy department in 1967, speech therapy in 1968, the workshop in 1969, physical therapy in 1970, the infant program in 1977 and preschool was in 1979.

Before New York State stepped in with specific educational guidelines, the Felician Sisters were classroom teachers or taught students much needed life skills such as cooking, making the bed or folding laundry. Sister Francelita worked as a program director and later a receptionist at Cantalician Center until her retirement in 2010 at 79-years-old. She came to the agency after working as the Principal of St. John Kanty School for years before it closed.

"In my heart I felt like this [Cantalician] was the place that I was supposed to go... I felt called there." said Sister Francelita.

In her role she was tasked with coordinating activities for the students. She recalled spending most of her time in the chapel at the Main Street campus teaching student's music. One of her fondest memories was from a Flag Day ceremony where the entire school gathered around the flag pole to sing "God Bless America."   

"Cars were driving down Main Street really slow to see what we were doing. Some of the cars stopped just to hear the kids sing. Most of the kids knew the words, but if they didn't they would hum along. It was a wonderful moment," said Sister Francelita.

Sister Francelita remembers calming the students with soft music before the Prayer Service's that would take place each Friday at the chapel on Main Street. She knew sitting through the service would be difficult for some students and felt that if they were in a calmer frame of mind it was easier for them to make it through. Sister Francelita was also on staff as a resource for teachers. She recalls coordinating many faculty meetings in the chapel where teachers would get together to talk and give much needed positive reinforcement to one another.

"We were all there because we loved the kids. It was our love for them that kept us going," said Sister Francelita.

Sister Francelita said Cantalician Center was like home for its students and teachers. She recalled one student walking to the school on Main Street from his home near the cemetery on Bailey Avenue on a snow day just to be at school with his friends.

The Felician Sisters were in charge of coordinating the school's version of the Special Olympics, bowling events at the Knights of Columbus, various picnics at the Main Street and Eggert Campus', and the yearly Alhambra picnic. Sister Francelita said one of the most essential tasks of the Felician Sisters was to collect food for the school's pantry and clothing for students in need. She recalls one student coming to school in sneakers with no jacket in the winter.

"We got his sizes, went to the store, and purchased warm clothes, boots, and a jacket. They needed us to do things like this back then, because there weren't many agencies that would help families get food or clothes if they needed it," said Sister Francelita.

The goal of the Felician Sisters was to ensure the students knew they were loved and that they weren't different than anyone else.

"The Felician Sisters laid the foundation for Cantalician Center and it has grown to identify and meet the needs of the individuals with disabilities and their families," said Sister Francelita. 

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Claudia Verostko-Sweeney

January 2016 

Claudia SweeneyClaudia Verostko-Sweeney or Miss Claudia as her students called her, started teaching at Cantalician Center for Learning in 1968 and worked at the organization until retirement in 2014. Miss Claudia was the longest employed teacher in Cantalician Center history to this day. She was only 19-years-old when she began teaching students between the ages of 13 to 21 at the first location at 3233 Main Street in Buffalo.

Miss Claudia was directed to Cantalician Center by the Felician Sisters. They knew Miss Claudia was interested in working with children with developmental disabilities and felt Cantalician Center would be a great fit for her. Miss Claudia said when she first started out, teachers didn't need a teaching degree. She began teaching with an associate's degree from Villa Maria College and later earned her bachelor and master degrees from Buffalo State College.

"[When] I began teaching, I had a big class of 18 with no assistant and very few ancillary services. The faculty was made up of people who had a desire to do it. Parents helped out in the classroom, they were servers in the cafeteria, and they prepped the food. Back then, a lot of mothers didn't work so there were shifts of mothers and fathers who came in and worked at the school on a daily basis," said Miss Claudia.

The parents were very involved in their children's education. Miss Claudia recalls monthly meetings at the Main Street site where parents would meet one-on-one with their child's teacher to discuss goals for the month and then they would fill the auditorium to hear speakers that would give them information on additional support.

The first ancillary services offered at Cantalician Center were speech and physical education. Miss Claudia said the classroom teacher taught everything outside of that. When she first started working at Cantalician Center the agency served children with developmental disabilities ages 5 to 21-years-old. It wasn't until 1977 that the agency began working with infants and then years later began serving ages 21 and over.

Miss Claudia said the biggest change in education was when New York State became more involved. This is when class sizes at Cantalician Center decreased and more staff was hired to help out in classrooms. She noticed a big shift in technology after that. She went from only handwriting goals and expectations in communication notebooks to using many different modes of communication, from the telephone to fax machine and now email.

"We changed with the times, but for myself I was older, so technology didn't come easy for me. Sometimes it was quicker and easier for me to hand write my information for parents. I had a lot of younger teachers help me when we first started doing IEP documentation online, because I really wasn't computer savvy," said Miss Claudia.

Miss Claudia's fondest memories are of her time at the Main Street campus. She loved the trees that once stood behind the big red-brick building that gave the students shade during recess. She would lay out a blanket on the lawn in front of what's now the University at Buffalo South Campus for class picnics. In the later years, she didn't mind when the subway system was constructed near the building because this gave the students access to downtown Buffalo where they would go purchase supplies at local delicatessens to make sandwiches as part of a classroom activity or visit the shops along Main Street for social activity.

"I really loved working at Cantalician... Everybody was family. Through the years that I was there, I was married, I was separated, I had three kids, and I had cancer. People were just so supportive. Anything anybody needed, people were just so kind," said Miss Claudia.

But, it was her experience as a teacher that kept her at Cantalician Center for all those years. Beaming with joy, Miss Claudia recalled many experiences with her students that will "stick with her forever." She told the story of a 15-year-old girl who was a selective mute who came to Cantalician Center with behavior issues. The girl had not talked since she was 5-years-old.

"She would not speak and that developed into self-injurious behavior like pulling out her eyelashes. She had a very low opinion of herself," said Miss Claudia.

The girl would communicate with Miss Claudia by writing handwritten notes. The student loved makeup, but Miss Claudia told her that she needed eyelashes to wear makeup. This encouraged the girl to stop pulling her eyelashes out so they could go shopping for makeup where they had another breakthrough in communication.

"When she was 19 years-old, we were on the train, and we were going downtown and the driver said 'Next stop, Lafayette Square!' She turned to me and said, 'The next stop is Lafayette Square.' At first she spoke only to me, but by the time she left at 21 years-old she was talking to everyone at the Cantalician Center," said Miss Claudia.

It was experiences like these that Miss Claudia said she will "never forget."

"That's why I did what I did. I loved my job. It was hard for me to leave friends that I saw every day. I have great memories that will last a lifetime," said Miss Claudia. "It was never about the money. It was a hard job, but it was extremely rewarding."

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***Stories written by Ashley Hirtzel, Marketing and Special Events Coordinator for Cantalician Center for Learning 

 

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