By R.A. Schuetz and Humberto J. Rocha
Updated 6:04 pm, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Elm Street, a strip of restaurants and shops including Vineyard Vines and J. Crew in New Canaan, celebrated a new tenant Wednesday afternoon. Staff and clients of STAR, Inc., a Norwalk-based nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony to open a new office here.
As New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan prepared to cut the glittering ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors, Executive Director Katie Banzhaf spoke about the impetus for the new offices. She said the office at 111 Elm St. had been in the works for years — “Really from a request from the families who wanted to reduce the commute they did did every day.”
Susan Swarting, a New Canaan parent of a child at STAR, remembered having a conversation about a new office roughly two years ago. Students in New Canaan were picked up in a van and shuttled to and from the Wolfpit Avenue facility in Norwalk, a round trip that she said took about an hour a day. “I didn’t really like the idea of our kids being in a van so much,” she said.
Now, her son not only has a shorter commute — he also is able to develop his vocational, recreational and social skills in his own community.
“The policemen know them, the firemen know them, the people in the post office know them,” Swarting said. “And that’s important because it sometimes takes them a little while to do things like check out at a grocery store.”
Caroleigh Evarts, another New Canaan parent, agreed.
“It’s allowing them to continue and develop ... in their own community — where he’s already formed his own relationships over time,” she said. “And that’s a very meaningful change.”
One of the adults in the program is 41-year-old Todd McInerney, who was accompanied by his mother, Barbara, at the ceremony.
“I love STAR and I’m excited for my mom to be here at the party,” Todd McIrerney said. “I was born in Greenwich, but I have lived in New Canaan for a long time and I love it.”
“He’s so happy to be here and he’s so close to the office now,” Barbara McInerney said.
“I think this is great,” Moynihan said after cutting the ribbon to applause and hugs. “STAR has been supporting us from Norwalk for so many years, and now it will be in the community. And it will be good for everyone; I’m thrilled to have them here.”
Former First Selectman Rob Mallozzi also attended the ceremony, departing shortly after the ribbon fell to get back to his first day on the job as Bankwell’s director of business development.
Tracey Kirk, who has been with STAR since 2000 as a program coordinator, started at the New Canaan facility two weeks ago and looks forward to her time there.
“This new office is beautiful and it will be more of a New Canaan family,” she said. “A lot of good things will come out of this.”
Evarts hoped one of those things would be a greater synergy with the other supportive services local to New Canaan. She herself is the therapeutic program coordinator at New Canaan Mounted Troops, where she serves children and adults with special needs, and she pointed to a host of programs in the area, such as the local YMCA and Arts for Healing.
“With STAR near, I hope to see greater sharing of resources — not one organization can provide everything to everybody,” she said.