Donors honored, tours provided during day dedicated to innovative program.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Those were the words of Threshold Program benefactor David Newton, parent of a program alumnus, talking about the renovated and newly dedicated Wilbur House, a 25-student residence hall, and the Maren K. Hitz '85 Threshold Alumni Center. The center is a venue for job-seeking skills development and life planning and an all-in-one safe harbor for 600-plus graduates of the 31-year-old educational program.But really he was talking about the transformation of lives.“Jim (Wilbur) and his staff are caring and supportive, but not coddling,” Newton said to a crowd of about 300 celebrants at the Oct. 5 Threshold Dedication Luncheon at the McKenna Student Center. Students, alumni, faculty and administrators dined with donors and honored guests and feted Threshold’s new look and ongoing work, as well as the dedication of its director, Jim Wilbur.
Founded in 1982 by Lesley professor Dr. Arlyn Roffmann (“She got this whole thing started, and she’s still in the game,” university President Joe Moore said.), Threshold is the first college-based curriculum in the nation to provide comprehensive vocational and independent-living skills training for highly motivated students who have diverse learning challenges or other special needs. The two-year program also offers an additional “bridge” year for students who seek extra time and training before they enter the work world, often in the city of Cambridge or nearby communities that they’ve called home during their program. A Transition Year helps many students move into their own apartments with the help of Independent Living Advisors, who visit alumni weekly and work with Threshold’s vocational coordinator to support them through the process of seeking paid employment.“The rewards we have as faculty and staff are enormous,” said Wilbur of the program. “Watching these remarkable young men and women achieve their quest for independence is life-changing for them and their families, and incredibly gratifying for all of us at Threshold and the Lesley community.”The generosity of donors Jerre and Nancy Hitz (whose daughter, Maren, is a Threshold alumna) helped fund the newly renovated alumni center that bears their daughter’s name, while Wilbur’s niece Jenney and her husband, David Gillikin, underwrote the renovations of the residence hall.Other donors were honored during the luncheon, as well, including John and Carol Moriarty, the latter a Lesley alumna (1974) and member of the board of trustees.
While the generosity of benefactors earned hearty applause, the recent Threshold Dedication event focused mainly on the Lesley community’s commitment to the students Threshold serves.In his remarks, Newton praised President Moore for getting personally involved as an advocate for Newton’s son “Det,” now a tennis pro, whose “only regret was he couldn’t play in a Division III program” since he wasn’t enrolled in a degree-granting program. After falling to Det in a tennis match, however, Moore petitioned the National Collegiate Athletic Association for a waiver, which Det received, helping launch his career as a tennis pro. (Det recently passed a major certification exam, broadening his professional opportunities.)“As is typical of Joe, he gets deeply involved with the Threshold students,” Newton said, though Moore quipped that his involvement might owe a bit to his addiction to tennis and basketball.
In his remarks, Moore explained the impetus for the renovations of the Oxford Street buildings as a sign of the respect Lesley affords to Threshold students.“How a building looks and how it works really matters,” Moore said. “Self-respect is the key to personal development and lifelong learning for all of us.”Before and after the luncheon, attendees toured the renovated Maren Hitz Alumni Center and Wilbur House residence hall, fawning over new walls, baths and kitchens, as well as features to make the buildings more accessible to people with disabilities.Other features of the renovations, which cost about $3.6 million, include new meeting space in the alumni center, updated furnishings and upgraded plumbing and heating, and ventilation and air conditioning designed for energy efficiency.“What struck me was the pride the students have in the new facility,” said benefactor David Gillikin at the luncheon. The successful businessman also joked that Lesley might want to consider franchising the Threshold model.There might already be some interest.Among the visitors touring the updated facilities was a contingent from Israel’s Nitzan Center, a facility for children and adults with learning disabilities. Nitzan Executive Director Dr. Maly Danino and her colleagues also visited for a week with Threshold students, faculty and staff as well as Graduate School of Education faculty in the special education program. The visitors were inspired by the Threshold curriculum and its students, and hope to replicate the model in Israel.But this month’s celebration was focused closer to home. Threshold student Lauren Hunt also reserved special thanks for Wilbur, saying, “Without him, we would never have such a beautiful dorm.” Jerre and Nancy Hitz applauded Threshold for helping Maren succeed as a world traveler (finding her own way through a French airport) and as a professional clerk and receptionist at a medical center. “It just felt so comfortable,” said Nancy, describing the day several decades ago when the family traveled from Washington, D.C., to check out the then-new program. Today, the Hitzes are gratified that the center bearing Maren’s name will be of aid to Maren’s fellow alumni.One of them, Victor DeVaul, called the alumni center a “safe and comforting refuge,” as he thanked donors for “supporting the independence of many of us who (came to Lesley) far away from home.”
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