Efforts underway to save Saint Rose program helping people with disabilities
ALBANY – When 21 year old Canaan Cassano walked across the state to collect his College of Saint Rose diploma last May, it was the culmination of a dream once thought to be unattainable.
“It felt really good but I’m ready to move forward,” Cassano said. “Now I can continue to do what I love to do, IT (information technology). I felt really fantastic and awesome.”
As a child growing up in Cambridge, New York, Cassano was diagnosed with autism. He became an Eagle Scout at 16, a member of the National Honor Society in high school, and then enrolled in the College Experience Program (CEP) at Saint Rose.
“I am very happy,” he declares, with a huge smile on his face, “I have a job that I’m passionate about as an IT technician. That’s my passion in life and it makes me happy overall.”
Because of the skills he learned, Cassano now lives independently in his own Albany apartment and he holds down an IT job.
Doug Morrissey, whose daughter Samantha is currently enrolled in the CEP, has a pretty good idea how Cassano is feeling these days.
“Four or five years ago I would have thought Samantha would live with us forever,” Morrissey said. “I have no expectation she’ll ever come home again. She will be independent. She is independent now and it’s because of this program.”
Last Friday, school officials announced the College of Saint Rose will be shutting down for good at the end of the current academic year in the spring of 2024. What that means is the CED may no longer be available for future students.
“We didn’t even wait for Saint Rose to contact us,” Elizabeth Martin, CEO of the Living Resources organization which runs the program, said. “We just went straight ahead and we started those conversations in order to assure that we have that continuity.”
In other words, the possibility that the CED could be saved, does exist.
“This is incredibly important for individuals, young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are looking to make that transition to adulthood and they want to be independent. They want to be working, but they just need some intensive skill development and independent living skills and employment skills.”
Doug Morrissey says his daughter was saddened and disappointed to find out about the pending Saint Rose closure, but at the same time, encouraged.
“The folks in the program have told the students, “We’ve got this, we are going to figure this out, the program is too important.”
Canaan Cassano was equally saddened to hear the news.
“I have no words just disbelief,” Cassano stated. “If I didn’t have this program, it would have been very different for me. I’m not going to say homeless but it would have been a whole different story.”
Elizabeth Martin says she was just as surprised as everyone else last week when the news came out.
“We didn’t know the situation was so dire, ” Martin said, “So far, the initial conversations we have had have been positive. We haven’t met with any of them just yet but there has been interest (from other colleges that might absorb the program) and we are setting up meetings.”