New classroom building to expand CHC programs

By Richard Yager….

Attending the groundbreaking of new $800,000 CHC building are (l-r, first row) Juan Wong Jr., Danielle Michelena, Debra Penny, Rafael Dausa, Lila Martinez, Daniel Casal and John Mazzarella; (second row) Joshua Yanowitz, Robert Lee, Erica Rafalowski and Henry Martinez.

Groundbreaking for a new 4,000-square-foot classroom building at the Community Habilitation Center is the first major expansion for the special Kendall-based program in this century.
The modular structure will provide five new classrooms in identical quarters approved for Miami-Dade’s public schools, according to John Mazarella, director of the CHC program, designed to aid young adults (21 and over) with disabilities.

“These are young people who are employable but no longer qualify for the Dade County Public School system benefits after age 21,” explained Mazarella, who helps focus young adults on finding a trade or vocation to allow more independent lifestyles in later life. Many remain on waiting lists to qualify for state or federal Medicaid assistance programs.

Located on county property at 11450 SW 79 St. just east of SW 117th Avenue, the first CHC building was a conversion from a World War II barracks, outfitted originally as a two-classroom center.

The new building is only the second expansion since inception of the services to young adults since the early 1970s, according to Natalia Laver, CHC associate director.

“The building not only represents an extraordinary joint effort between the community and our CHC members, but it also represents a window of opportunity for those who do not have many educational options once they graduate from high school.”

Replacing the administration building will enhance such existing programs as music therapy, support employment administrative offices, transitions and health, sports, while opening new space for individuals currently on a CHC waiting list.

Mazzarella oversees a program that depends upon a $1.2 million budget, largely made up from Medicaid funding through the State of Florida.

“About a quarter of a million is needed to make up the difference to provide the kind of services needed for our current enrollment capacity,” he explained. “We do depend upon private contributions and outside assistance.

“With the economic downturn and cutbacks in state funding, we are pressed each year to find the support needed to help further the education of these Miami-Dade youth,” Mazzarella added.

To help defray annual costs, the CHC holds two major fundraising events — a formal gala scheduled on Mar. 21 and its annual fashion show each September.

Assistance for continuing CHC programs also comes from such grateful citizens as Juan Wong, chair of the CHC board, who helped establish an outdoor restaurant for both a training and employment opportunity.

A local bank’s willingness to underwrite a $400,000 mortgage for the new classroom building significantly reduced financing costs.

The CHC Center was opened in 1973 by a group of parents of children with development disabilities, with CHC Inc. providing an array of support programs to provide more productive and meaningful lives in their later years.

Now in the permitting stage, the new classroom building will be moved to its new site adjoining the reconditioned World War II era administration office which will still remain in use, Mazzarella said.

“We’ll continue using that building for our administrative offices,” Mazzarella added. “It was part of the last makeover completed in the late 1990s.

“People still come by from the Pedro Pan days in Miami to get their picture taken here, remembering that they once lived inside its walls.”

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