Oakland — With bated breath and poised hands, the crowd in the David F. Bolger meeting hall waited for Kristen to cut the ceremonial ribbon. With help from Christine Reade, Kristen, 18, snipped the ribbon, and the pink sash fell to the ground to the sounds of boisterous applause. Kristen surveyed the crowd of supporters and smiled.
The ribbon-cutting for the Children’s Therapy Center Academy’s campus in Oakland brought board members, administrators and parents together to celebrate the opening of the organization’s newest and most state-of-the art facility. The CTC is a state-approved, not-for-profit private school with locations in Fair Lawn and formerly Midland Park that provides educational and therapeutic services for children with multiple disabilities. The new 39,000-square-foot campus replaces the Midland Park campus and will now offer services to children up to age 21. The new campus will serve the 62 students of the Midland Park campus.
"As we grew, we started with 24 kids, all of a sudden we had 62 kids, busting at the seams," said Laura DelDuca, principal of the Oakland campus and principal of the former Midland Park campus. "We also expanded. We used to only go to age 14. We added high school and then we wanted to go to 21."
The opening of the center is the result of more than two years of fundraising through a partnership with The Bolger Foundation. On May 1, 2013, philanthropist David F. Bolger, on behalf of the foundation, issued a challenge to the Children's Therapy Center to raise $2.5 million. The Bolger Foundation pledged that if the goal was met, it would match it 2 to 1, for a total of $7.5 million. The organization met the challenge following last June.
Director of development Audra Hoffman said that to date the project has cost $12.5 million.
"$5 million was directly from Bolger," said Hoffman. "We’ve used about $1.2 million of our own money through donor dollars. The rest has been financed but a lot of the donations we’ve received are in pledges. In other words, it will be supplemented as the pledges come in."
Bolger and his son J.T. were on hand for the celebration.
Ken Berger, CTC’s new executive director, spoke about the academy’s mission and what the new facility means to the community.
"It’s been amazing every day," said Berger. "Our mission is to enrich the lives of the students and to maximize their potential while supporting their families. This place is really a testament to our mission."
Pam Giacchi, whose son Anthony, 13, has been with the CTC since 2005, praised both Bolger and the CTC for providing him with new avenues of therapy and education.
"I remember feeling a huge sense of relief," Giacchi said of the CTC. "We had found the right place for our son to be educated."
Tara Harris, whose daughter Molly has been with the CTC for 14 years, explained just how important the CTC was for their family.
"I grew up a few blocks from the Children’s Therapy Center in Fair Lawn," Harris said. "I remember riding my 10-speed Schwinn past the school countless times. Each time I’d say a prayer not only for those kids and their families but also that when I grew up and had children, none of them would have to go to school there. But today I thank God and I thank all of you that Molly has this school to go to."
After the ceremony, attendees were invited to tour the new facility. The hallways are wide to ease access by motorized wheelchairs. There is a sensory room for students to go to when the classroom environment becomes overwhelming. The room was full of soothing fiber optics illuminating. Outside is an adaptive playground, complete with wheelchair ramps and a fountain. A hydrotherapy center features a system of pulleys to ease access to the pool.
As the ceremony came to a close, the groups converged, exchanging stories over refreshments and a custom-baked CTC cake. The scene was one of solidarity and support, in and out of the academy — for children like Kristen, who twice had to leave the CTC because she had aged out and then returning to begin yet another chapter.