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The HeartShare School celebrated its first graduate, Valerie Brown, on Friday, June 27, 2014. The school opened in 2007 to meet the educational needs of children 5-21 diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with a focus on autism.
“This is an important moment for Valerie, her family and for The HeartShare School. I am so proud of what Valerie has accomplished,” said Carol Verdi, HeartShare Vice President of Education Services. Before being presented with her diploma, friends and classmates, Nicholas, Jonathan and Rokaha, addressed Valerie, expressing how much she will be missed at The HeartShare School. Valerie first joined HeartShare with the opening of its children’s residences in May 2011. The Eaton Residence is home to seven girls and the Caruana Residence is home to seven boys, all of whom are ages 7-21 years old, diagnosed with autism and attend The HeartShare School. Both residences are adjacent to the school.
Valerie’s mother, Odessa Brown, described the obstacles that Valerie overcame to reach this milestone, “Valerie experienced a lot of changes when she moved into the residence and started attending The HeartShare School. But, despite her struggles, she continued to attend her classes and gained exposure to work experiences at the Brooklyn PACT Program. She’s become more independent.”
HeartShare’s Brooklyn Partnering with Autistic CiTizens (PACT) Day Habilitation Program in Downtown Brooklyn, developed in 2006 for young adults who recently graduated from public school, addresses the learning, socialization and communication needs of individuals with autism. For the past year, Valerie was assigned tasks fitting her individual needs and earned a stipend providing administrative support at the Brooklyn PACT Program.
Brooklyn PACT Program Manager Wendy Stuckey noticed how Valerie interacts with others since starting the program, “Valerie is more verbal and very clear expressing her personal preferences. She’s social, talking with staff and peers about her day and her time at The HeartShare School. She definitely smiles a lot more.”
Valerie will continue her participation and work at the PACT Program full-time. “She’s smart, has a good vocabulary and thoroughly understands others. With continued HeartShare staff encouragement, I know she’ll do well,” said Ms. Stuckey.