Zack’s Place (ZP) is a free enrichment center whose mission is to empower special-needs people of all ages to express themselves through art, music, dance, literacy, athletics, and fitness while developing bonds of friendship. The center was founded in 2006 by the parents of a teenager who were seeking fellowship and creative outlets for their son with Cerebral Palsy, who would soon age out of the public education system. With few post-educational resources available, Zack’s parents created “Zack’s Place” in answer to the daunting issue of what do special-needs individuals and their families do after their school years have ended.
ZP originally began as an after school program, but over the last seven years, it has grown into a full day program. It enjoys tax exempt status as a Section 501(c)(3) organization and is financed solely by event income, grants, and generous donor-based support. We are located in the beautiful Village of Woodstock, Vermont, and within walking distance of the library, the local school, public parks, museums, and Town Hall Theater. The wheelchair accessible building contains an art studio with space for extensive art projects and a bright, open room for various activities such as exercise, dance, meetings, theater practices, socialization, and of late, a full kitchen. The participants are actively engaged locally through service events and have become well integrated into the community at large as a result.
Our 40 participants vary in age from 8 to 50, with special needs resulting from physical, cognitive, and developmental challenges such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism, Soto Syndrome, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Although the majority of our constituents live in Woodstock, some travel from distances of up to 40 miles. ZP serves the special education community in a unique way, offering programming that compliments the public school system by augmenting and reinforcing the educational and social bonds offered through those programs.
We are especially proud of our community-based support. In 2012, we had almost 400 community members volunteering in one or more capacities. Indeed, last year alone, we wrote 1,400 thank you notes for in-kind gifts, donations and volunteerism. Our varied programs often involve community members including our Theatre Guild Program which produces two musicals a year performed on stage at the local high school, and featuring cameo performers who are prominent members of the area, such as the police chief, a state legislator, and town manager. We also involve students from the local schools who partner with our participants in programs such as our Snowshoe Special Olympics Team as well as special art projects, and musicals. These are individuals who might never come to know our special needs population personally, or come to know how able and special they really are. These benefits arise from the core of our enrichment center, our outreach, and our inclusiveness.
We derive funding solely through donations, grants and fundraisers. Our three annual fundraisers have experienced great success due to the generosity of our local community which has embraced ZP in an extraordinary way. They are: The Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot (a 5K road race), The Stay at Home Tea (an annual mail fund drive), and The Dine Around (a series of themed dining events hosted by families who incur the full costs and that are sold through a catalog with all revenues going to ZP). We also receive contributions from private donors, and lastly, we solicit and receive grants from, among others, the Granite United Way, Vermont Community Foundation, Ottauquechee Health Foundation, Woodstock Learning Trust, the Rockefeller Foundation, Vermont Community Foundation, Windham Foundation, Glad Rags, The Kings Daughters, Woodstock Rotary, Mascoma Bank, Timken Aerospace, Hypertherm and the Vermont Disabilities Development Council, as well as smaller grants from local businesses and charities. Considerable in-kind support and volunteerism also help keep costs down. For example, we recently installed a kitchen which was totally outfitted and installed at no cost to ZP.
Zack Frates (for whom Zack’s Place is named) died suddenly in September 2011, but his legacy continues. Anyone stopping into our center will feel the joy, camaraderie, pride, and well-being emanating from the family which is Zack’s Place. It has become their home away from home where they have real friends who share in their accomplishments, sorrows, fears, and joys, and where they mingle with community members. Our vision for Zack’s Place has been fulfilled. This is a place where people’s lives are truly enriched every day.