History and Purpose
The Lighthouse Voc-Ed Center is a private, non-profit (501c-3) business. In 1987, with a grant, we started an experimental five day-a-week extended day program at Little White Schoolhouse in Mystic, Connecticut. We formed in response to parents’ needs for respite time for their children with disabilities. The special education students that needed a longer, more structured day to learn appropriate social skills and behaviors were considered the most behaviorally and physically severe. These students were segregated from peers and their community. We created programs that had structure, consistency, followed their education plans, and would slowly introduce them into their communities. It took years to prepare a student (ages 3-21) with severe disabilities to become a functioning adult. We worked on all the skills that a person with disabilities needs to function more independently. We broke ground in Southeastern Connecticut for providing an extended school program for children that most felt should be in institutions, not the community. After ten years with us, these initial students are now young adults who can appropriately go to restaurants, movies and jobs. The key to our success has been the long-term consistency with their educational, communication and behavioral programs.
We engage children and adults in hands-on learning expreriences so that choice and initiative are the basic elements of the learning process. We believe that appropriate behavior and social skills are acquired when people can choose to engage in activities without coercion. We encourage independence, social appropriateness and problem-solving through interactions in the community.
In June 1992, our contract with Little White Schoolhouse ended when the school closed. We incorporated under the Lighthouse Voc-Ed Center name and started again in November 1992 with no money, two students and a $1,500 gift from the Southeastern Association for the Retarded for our insurance costs. A lot of dedicated parents, teachers, therapists, and friends volunteered time to get us started. We all worked long hours with little or no pay, because we believed in what we were doing.
In 1997, we received a $100,000 grant from United Parcel Service to renovate and open our site at the Groton Shopping Plaza. We were the only recipient in the United States. UPS wished to give the money to a “small business that would have a great effect on their community.” Since then, we have continued working hard to fulfill United Parcel Service’s wish. We feel we do have a positive effect on our community.
In July 2003, we opened a second site at 312 Main Street, Niantic, Connecticut. This site is within walking distance of stores, laundromats, restaurants and movie theaters. We are quite fortunate to be able to have such a wonderful staff and community support to make this expansion possible.
In 2004, with the combine efforts of Dr. Lloyd Johnson (special services director for East Lyme Schools), a local family and the Lighthouse Center, a house was provided in downtown Niantic for transitional and residential need for young ladies who need little support. The residence was opened in July 2005. A second house in Niantic was provided in 2005 for the Lighthouse Center by another family.
In 2007, a third house was purchased in Niantic for a Transition Academy for students 18-21 years old, diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, or non-verbal learning disorders.
In 2008, we opened an art gallery named The Gallery at Lighthouse, located at 744 Long Hill Road, Groton, Connecticut. A new artist is featured each month from our community. The gallery is an employment center for some of our Transition Academy students. The site also houses a Digital Media Studio and our main offices.
In 2008, we opened a third educational facility at 58 Pennsylvania Avenue. This site has a therapeutic motor room which was donated by the Kelsey Harrington Foundation. The motor room is used for various therapies and classes.
We are approved by the state Board of Education as a private special education school. We have certified teachers at each site to support our students’ goals and objectives throughout their days. All levels of academics, transition skills and community programs are provided for our students. We contract with educational consultants, behaviorists, speech and language pathologists and occupational and physical therapists.
We are proud of all we have accomplished for students and adults in Southeastern Connecticut. We look forward to continued growth based on our communities’ needs.