Project Independence to celebrate 40 years

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BENNINGTON — When Bennington Project Independence started, 40 years ago, the entire caseload numbered four people.

Now, the center sees about 50 to 55 people a day.

After weathering years with uncertain funding and working to handle changing community needs, leaders say it's time to celebrate.

"We want to share the joy" of 40 years, said Linda Wichlac, executive director of BPI. "[We've been] quietly doing our job. And now we want to party."

BPI will host a 40th anniversary celebration at its Richard A. Sleeman Center Saturday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m., at a cost of $50 per person.

The event will feature appetizers, a buffet dinner, desserts and entertainment, along with a silent auction with items like a canoe, artwork, china and many gift baskets with items from local businesses. It is open to the public; people can register by calling BPI or online.

Over the years, BPI has seen significant changes.

It started out in a church basement with four participants, moving to a site in an old grist mill to its current location, which officially opened in 2009.

BPI serves a wide range of people, from independent seniors to individuals with greater physical needs to people with Alzheimer's Disease or brain injuries.

Staff offer various activities, medical support and community for seniors.

Currently, the board of directors is looking at a strategic planning process to better meet changing community needs.

"We're here to meet some of the growing need," Wichlac said.

Another goal is to finish the lower level of the center, but that wouldn't be undertaken without community feedback.

The project would cost about $1.5 million, and would potentially involve a capital campaign.

The need for the center's services will likely grow, as Vermont is set to become the eldest state in the nation in just a few years, said Wichlac, who has been executive director for 30 years.

What is now Bennington Project Independence was founded in 1978 by people from the Bennington Elder Action Committee, working in conjunction with the town of Bennington and Vermont's Office on Aging.

They wanted an alternate option to nursing homes for seniors who needed support.

Many of the staff have remained with BPI for years, providing comprehensive day services for older adults and younger adults with disabilities.

"It's something really to celebrate," said Andy Beckerman, a member of the board of directors.

Despite its many years of operation, in the past, there were times when BPI came close to not getting needed funded.

"It just was jaw-dropping, how close it came at times," Beckerman said.

Beckerman said he hopes the center raises $55,000 from the event.

"I think that's very possible, because people are extremely generous," he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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