Reprinted from Fairfield County Catholic – June 19, 2019
Editors Note: These comments were originally delivered by Helen Burland, Executive Director of St. Catherine Center for Special Needs on its 20th anniversary. They have been printed and posted here with her permission.
Good evening – I am Helen Burland and I have the honor and privilege to serve as the Executive Director of Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs. I was so pleased to see so many familiar faces tonight and equally as excited to welcome our first-time attendees. This is our second year in a row that we have a full house. This truly is a family gathering and we are so grateful to have all of you as part of the Saint Catherine family.
Tonight we have recognized some people who have made significant contributions to our mission and I add my congratulations and gratitude.
20 years ago, In 1999, the Diocese of Bridgeport and many people who are in this room tonight embraced the vision to create a faith-based education program that would welcome children whose learning needs were special. I stand before you tonight proud to say that Saint Catherine Center is a vibrant, joyful mission committed to working with people with disabilities and their families. We are founded on the belief from Catholic Social Teaching that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. That every person has a right to participate in society and a corresponding duty to work for the advancement of the well-being of all. Beginning with the belief that all life is valued, we work to provide for God’s most vulnerable individuals.
Saint Catherine Center is home to Saint Catherine Academy, a private special education school offering an alternative program to children ages 5-21. In 2014, we added an adult day program to offer an alternative for young people who had completed their formal education but still needed a structured, supervised environment. Additionally, we support services throughout the Diocese to assist parishes and schools in welcoming people with disabilities to be full participants in their communities.
If the students and young adults were here today, they would tell you that Saint Catherine’s is not as much a place as it is an experience where children and young adults learn:
• responsibility along with side math and reading;
• respect while they learn how to empty a dishwasher and
• trust while they navigate a grocery store or try a new skill at a job site
They would tell you that:
• they feel safe and respected;
• they experience kindness and compassion while they are challenged to reach their highest individual potential.
• It is a place where joy and gratitude go hand and hand with perseverance and hard work.
We are ordinary people on an extraordinary journey with the support of our families; a very dedicated Board, a talented and devoted staff, organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Order of Malta, numerous volunteers, and generous donors.
Sometimes it is too easy to glamorize the work we do when we talk about it on a night like this. Success at Saint Catherine’s is measured in small steps – not leaps and bounds. Sometimes it is imperceptible but we know it is there when we have a breakthrough moment. One of our students reminded me of this at graduation last week. As he approached the microphone to present a petition. He paused, took a deep breath, a proceeded to read flawlessly. It was the most beautiful prayer I have heard in a long time.
The work is very challenging; sometimes exasperatingly so – but when we get it right, it is so profoundly moving that we keep going.
We have over 40 children and young adults now receiving daily programming at the Center. Over the course of the year, they have taught us
• how to speak without words,
• how to better define “What is success”,
• how to overcome the fear of water;
• how to cook in our kitchen,
• how to dance with joy, and
Most importantly, they taught us how to look beyond ourselves; to walk with them – we have conquered many obstacles this year –some serious health scares and some family tragedies. Saint Catherine Center is a place of consolation, peace, and healing for all who are touched by our mission.
We continue to look to the future – The need is great in our community and we continue to strive to meet the needs as they are presented to us. We continue to plan for our bakery; we are planning our future facility needs; we are excited about what the future holds for all of us.
All of these are possible because of you. Together we hold the future of these children and young people in our kind and loving hands. We are called to be the light of the world and your partnership, your commitment to vulnerable among us – provides light for all to see. Thank you for all you do for Saint Catherine Center.