"Positively Benhaven" Newsletter - 50th Anniversary Gala

Positively Benhaven

A bi-monthly newsletter
for the residents, staff, families, and friends of Benhaven
Issue 86         November 2017

                                   “Benhaven Celebrates 50 Years"

                                                          by Linda Simonson

On Thursday, October 19th, over 300 staff, families, friends and supporters, students and residents of Benhaven gathered at Woodwinds in Branford to celebrate Benhaven’s 50th anniversary.  The theme of the Gala was “Celebrating 50 Years of Making an Impact on Individuals and Their Families,” and displays, photos, videos, and the turnout for the event demonstrated Benhaven’s impact not only on students, residents and families, but on staff, surrounding communities, and on the field of autism.

We have been fortunate to have had the support of and a mutually beneficial relationship with Yale and the New Haven medical community from the very beginning. In attendance was Dr. Robert LaCamera, who served as Benhaven’s first medical director and treated many of Benhaven’s first students and residents.  Benhaven’s current medical director, Dr. Joe Avi-Singer, consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Westphal(also a board member), and long time consulting psychiatrist, advisor, and liaison with Yale Child study Center, Dr. Fred Volkmar, were also present.

The cocktail hour gave attendees some time to peruse the displays, bid on 90 items available for the silent auction, and stuff containers with raffle tickets for the 18 baskets of goods and services being raffled off at the end of the evening.  The highlight for most of us, however, was getting to mingle with the crowd and reconnect with some of the many people whose lives Benhaven had touched and who had been part of the Benhaven community during its earliest years.

 During dinner, we were serenaded by the lovely voices of Silk’n’Sounds, a women’s a capella chorus that generously raises money for autism causes with its appearances.

 The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Wick Chambers, presented recently retired long time Executive Director, Larry Wood, with an award for his 45 years of dedication and commitment to Benhaven and the people it serves.

 The keynote speaker was Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr., who represents Connecticut’s 12th district. Senator Kennedy has been a passionate advocate for people with disabilities for most of his life and has served on the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities for over 15 years; he was recently elected Board Chair for the AAPD.  Senator Kennedy praised Benhaven for its pioneering work and for serving individuals with disabilities over the 50 years it has been in existence. He asked those in attendance to “google AAPD” to learn of its work and to continue the fight for the rights of individuals regardless of their disabilities.

 We were also privileged to hear from Sharon(Shoosh) Lettick, who made the trip from California to visit her brother, Ben, and to represent her family at the Gala.  She delivered a brief history of Benhaven’s founder, her mother, Amy Lettick’s efforts to educate Ben, which planted the seeds that grew into first, Benhaven School, and 5 years later, its residential program. The heart of her address, however, was the revealing and poignant story of what it was like growing up with Ben, how she viewed, coped and communicated with her decidedly different brother, and how he has impacted and ultimately enriched her life.

Staff were recognized for their longevity, beginning with those who had worked at Benhaven for at least five years, right up to the 40 staff members who had been there for 20 to 45 years.  The retention of staff is a testament to the respect with which Benhaven treats its staff as well as its students and residents, its efforts to promote professional development, and the closeness and sense of community among those who work here.

A volunteer committee of Benhaven staff put together this wonderful event, working countless hours planning all aspects of the Gala, soliciting donations of goods and services for the silent auction and raffle, taking part in the many preparation tasks, and making sure that the evening ran smoothly.  Speaking for those of us who sat back and enjoyed the evening, we are deeply grateful for the attention to detail and thorough planning that, in addition tothe people representing decades of involvement with Benhaven in attendance, made the celebration so very special.  Thanks, too, to our dedicated staff who missed the event because they were working with our residents that evening.


From Peter Golanski:

The gang at Rosenberg House enjoyed the Gala. We  had representatives from four of the six residents’ families, including Helen and Duke Rosenberg, Leila’s sisters Carol and Janet and her brother-in-law Richard, and Sang’s sister, Alison. Ben, our namesake, sat with his sister Shoosh and three of his cousins.  Meyer, our bon vivant and cultural ambassador got to catch up with many old friends from the past.  Sid was there with his good friend, Joe Kuczenski representing the Weinberg family; he particularly enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres.  Ben, Meyer, and Sid all looked dashing in suits and ties and a fine time was had by all.


From Jonathon Pascale:

Josh had a wonderful time at Benhaven’s 50th anniversary Gala.  His excitement started to grow as we entered the parking lot of Woodwinds. Josh seemed to marvel at the well manicured landscape decorated with lights, jumping up and down with a cheerful cry when I told him we were going into the big white building. There seemed to be a bit of apprehension as we drew closer to the entrance, but Josh relaxed after seeing a familiar face. We grabbed our name tags and bellied up to the bar for a drink-diet Coke for Josh and ginger ale for me.  As we entered the main room, Josh’s eyes lit up. There were so many people and it really seemed as if Josh was starting to feel like a movie star.  He was looking at the décor and smiling at everyone, offering an occasional wave.  We went to the back of the room to look at all of the raffle and auction prizes as we enjoyed our sodas. Some of Josh’s friends and teachers from school came to say hello and have their pictures taken with The Star. He loved the attention. We then headed to our table to find more familiar faces. There were more visitors, more photo opps, and he received all kinds of compliments which he accepted with grace.  Then came the food. Josh enjoyed one and a half portions of chicken, some salad and veggies, and I even snuck a little salmon onto his plate. He washed all that down with two pieces of cake.  Josh was a perfect gentleman at the table, and his fork and napkin skills were on full display.  We decided that it would be best to leave between speakers as we moved further and further past Josh’s bedtime.  Josh bid everyone a fine evening and we were off. An ear to ear smile was locked on Josh’s face as this very special evening drew to a close.







Congratulations to Benhaven's PE Teacher Dan Kahl
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