Christmas comes early for Kennedy Center

The Polar Express streamed through Center Stage Theatre in Shelton last week, but not before Shelton’s own Santa Claus presented a special gift to the production’s organizers.

The Trumbull-based Kennedy Center’s Project Impact and Project Advance — two of the center’s Community Experience Programs that assist adults with intellectual disabilities — put on the holiday classic in front of dozens of family members and friends.

But the celebration was made more memorable as Mayor Mark Lauretti presented two checks — each for $5,000 — to The Kennedy Center.

“I know the people who are going to be the recipient of (the donations) are well-deserving,” said Lauretti after presenting the check to Project Impact’s Teresa McIntosh. “I’ve always admired the work that The Kennedy Center has done.

Lauretti has been involved with The Kennedy Center for several decades and regularly gives a major gift to The Kennedy Center from the Mayor’s Golf Tournament. This year’s contribution will be earmarked for The Kennedy Center Social Enterprises.

But the surprise came moments after Lauretti presented the first check when the longtime mayor told those in attendance that — with campaign funds left over from his governor’s run — he was able to donate those extra dollars to 501(c)3 organizations of his choice. With that, Lauretti said he was donating $5,000 to St. Vincent’s Special Needs and another $5,000 to The Kennedy Center.

Gary Scarpa, director of Center Stage Theatre, offered up his stage for the second year in a row for the Project Impact and Project Advance  holiday production.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for all of them,” said Scarpa about the performers.

Scarpa, a former guidance counselor at Shelton High, said he knows four of the people from his time at the school and praises The Kennedy Center for providing opportunities for them to get out in community.

“We have people from the programs coming in here (to Center Stage) once or twice a month to help set up for our performances,” said Scarpa.

Anton said these Kennedy Center programs are designed to teach people skills to teach independence and independence in the workforce.

“People are able to advance their work skills, their social skills,” said Anton. “These programs teach be a person … it gives them an identity, helps them develop friendships, self confidence.”

Project IMPACT focuses on community engagement, navigation of community resources and the identification of new community interests and connections. On a weekly basis, each participant will be involved in community volunteering, recreation, social skills, accessing learning environments and discovering new venues of interest.

Anton said typical settings may include local coffee houses, libraries, college campus, fitness centers, hiking trails, non-profit entities and local lunch options.

Project ADVANCE (Accessing Different Ventures And New Chances to Excel) opened in September 2014 and provides services to individuals in their younger years that want to be active and involved in their community. Activities include both volunteer and recreational  community activities as well as curriculum and academics that promote functional skill building. Work skills are taught to help individuals achieve eventual employment.