Waban celebrates 50th anniversary
SANFORD — On a Sunday filled with memories, family and progress, the Waban Project held an open house to mark its 50th anniversary and celebrate its past and encouraging future.
Waban residents, employees and family members began filling the parking lot at the Wormwood Banquet and Conference Center on the Waban campus at 2 p.m.
Outside, guests explored the TREE Center, Waban’s year-round experiential learning program with a focus on environmental education, took part in tours of the Waban Campus and hiked portions of Waban’s 21/2 miles of handicap-accessible trails.
Scott Tarbox, a floor installer from Sanford, watched as his autistic daughter Molly, 8, played on the TREE Center’s playground. Molly isn’t enrolled at Waban; she goes to the Morrison Center in Wells. But Scott says he can see her in one of Waban’s adult programs when she gets older.
“They really have amazing adult programs,” Tarbox said. “I’ve been in many of their homes and facilities, and they’re all nice and very clean.”
Inside the Wormwood were displays showing snippets of Waban’s past and its transformation through the years. Historical objects, including mugs, pins and photos dating to the ’60s, stood as reminders of the decades-long effort and vision that got the institution where it is now.
Waban has undoubtedly made a lasting impression on both local and state officials.
“Sanford is a working-class town, and people have their own struggles, but they never forget about Waban and supporting it,” said Bonnie Lesley, a recruiting specialist for Waban. She cited the fact that Waban employs over 500 people around York County as one reason for the strong support.
Alex Pelczar, a spokeswoman for Maine Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins, said in a letter written by Collins that the institution had come a long way from when it opened in 1966.
“The transformation that your organization has experienced since then from a small summer camp to one of the largest employers of York County is truly remarkable,” Pelczar read. “I am pleased to join the entire community in applauding this outstanding milestone.”
The event also included an award of Official Expression of Sentiment from the state Legislature presented by state Representatives Patricia Hymanson and Anne-Marie Mastraccio, and a pre-recorded video address from Independent Maine U.S. Senator Angus King, who congratulated the organization on 50 years of success.
Mary Ellen Fenderson, 52, Paul Sicotte, 69, and Kathy Perreault, 62, posed laughing as they had their photos taken outside the conference center. Each has been involved in Waban since they were children, and continue to thrive independently under the organization’s guidance today.
Mary Ellen’s mother, Evelyn Fenderson, said Mary Ellen attended the first summer camp in 1966, when she was 2 years old, and has stuck with the program for the entirety of Waban’s existence.
“I always say she’s under the Waban umbrella,” Fenderson said. “They’ve done really, really great with her.”
Many of Waban’s core members, including Mary Ellen, were honored during the closing address by Waban Executive Director Neil Meltzer. Those honored received complimentary Waban apparel and a Waban tote bag.
During his address, Meltzer identified the decade-by-decade efforts of people who helped develop Waban into an institution of several adult and children’s programs.
“I think the early founders started with a summer camp, and they found that (the camp) wasn’t going to be efficient enough; it needed services through the year,” Meltzer said. “Today, our services span from early childhood services all the up through to the end of life. Our youngest resident is 19, our oldest is 92, so it really is the full lifespan of an individual.”
Meltzer added that the organization is planning an expansion of its Frasier-Ford Development Center, a special purpose preschool for disabled children. He said that the building has six classrooms now, but they’re all full, and more will be needed. They’ve started a capital campaign to build an autism therapy wing that would add four more classrooms, therapy offices and a large multi-purpose space.
In addition to children and adult services and its TREE Center, Waban also offers jobs through one of its social enterprises, a SecureRMS-nationally certified document destruction company that provides 11 jobs for people with disabilities.
— Staff Writer Ryder Schumacher can be contacted at 282-1535.