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At Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, adults with disabilities are living and learning to be independent.

“I love this place a lot. The people are amazing, the teachers, these people became my second family and I love it,” said Matthew Schwartz, a first-year resident and student.

And they’re doing it all while adjusting to a pandemic.

“Our amazing staff had to drastically change the curriculum in order to provide an experience for our adults to learn how to grocery shop, to learn to go to the bank, to learn how to do things that individuals typically do in order to maintain independence,” said Michael Storz, president of Chapel Haven Schleifer Center.

They switched to hybrid learning and the adults have done will with standard COVID prevention protocol of social distancing, hand washing and masking. They’re looking forward to getting back to real life experiences.

“Hopefully when COVID ends I want to go to the grocery store so bad,” said Schwartz.  

The Department of Developmental Services says he and the 250 adults here are able to get a COVID vaccine as part of phase 1B which starts Monday. His teacher Erik Rambush got vaccinated last week.

“It was a big relief to get it,” said Rambush. “The students that we work with unfortunately a lot of them have comorbidities or just have compromised immune systems and so their quality of life is important to everybody. And so just having that lifted off of everyone’s shoulders and knowing that, hey, we’re going to be safe and we’re going to be OK.”

The state Vaccine Advisory Group’s allocation subcommittee recommended Tuesday that people aged 16-64 with comorbidities, and people 65 and over be included in phase 1B. Nearly a million people in the state will be eligible for a vaccine.

“I am confident in the system that when phase 1B rolls out and when our individuals are able to receive the vaccine that they will be able to get it,” said Storz who was pleased with how staff have been able to get vaccinated so far in phase 1A.  

“They are very excited. I think having their eyes on returning to a degree of something normal, getting out into the community, just being a participant in society means so much to someone,” said Rambush.

Matthew was supposed to go to Disney World last year. He’s looking forward to going soon.

“I hope COVID ends soon. Because last year in 2020 I was supposed to go to Disney World, but it was postponed due to COVID,” said Schwartz. “I was bummed, I handled it like a pro. Hopefully 2021 will be a better, wonderful, magical year.”