By Aaron Retherford
For a decade, the Autism Puzzle Foundation has been raising tens of thousands of dollars to help Vermonters who are on the autism spectrum via small individual grants.
After 10 years of fundraising, the APF’s founding Board of Directors decided it was time to end their monthly grant program and go big to give one lasting gift to Barre. That $75,000 gift became a reality last Wednesday at the ribbon cutting for the Imagination Station, a Snoezelen Room located in Washington County Mental Health Services’ WellSpace building, at 23 Summer St.
“It was absolutely gratifying to see all the years of hard work come to fruition,” APF President and co-founder Randy Lamberti said. “It is a great feeling to know that our legacy will live on in Barre for many years to come.”
Lamberti wanted a way to honor his mother, Kay, after she passed away in 2014. There is a memorial dedicated to Kay Lamberti in the room. Lamberti approached WCMHS with the idea of creating a Snoezelen Room and while WCMHS Executive Director Mary Moulton said the organization had never considered the idea in the past, they were on board as soon as Lamberti explained his vision.
Then it was just a matter of finding a location. In what used to be an eight-room space at WellSpace, WCMHS facilities workers knocked down walls and repaired water damage in order to create a space filled with interactive activities. There are even quiet rooms for those who need less stimulation.
Imagination Station will be primarily used to serve individuals with Autism, but can also be utilized by anyone who can benefit from sensory based therapeutic settings, including people with forms of dementia. It’s also arguably an awe-inspiring experience for anyone experiencing a Snoezelen Room for the first time with dozens of interactive activities.
Moulton said the room will serve 20-50 local children a week initially, but she would like to see it help Vermonters across the state eventually. She said she expects the room to be open for full-time use the second week of June.
“We’re so grateful to the community and grateful for Randy’s leadership, to the whole crew, and the Autism Puzzle Foundation,” Moulton said. “We’re going to make something special happen here.”
So far, Imagination Station has 20 trainers, who can then train family members to explain to their loved ones how best to use the offerings in the room. There’s everything from giant iPad-like devices on the walls with matching games, to touch-sensitive blocks that change the color of light on the wall, to a device that helps you regulate the level of your voice by showing you the volume of your speech.
APF used its 10th and final Casino Event fundraiser last year to help make this happen, and it is truly a sight to be seen.
Lt. Governor Phil Scott, who was on hand for the ribbon cutting and has attended the fundraising events over the past decade, couldn’t agree more.
“It takes a team to put something like this together as I know,” Scott said. “The Lamberti family has been such big givers to the community over the years.”