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New Sensory Center to aid Red Apple students

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Published:   |   Updated: June 4, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Even though Dave Neal has been gone for nearly four years, the Red Apple School continues following the vision of its late founder with expansion at the school’s Jefferson Street campus.

Red Apple will hold a grand opening 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 19, for its Sensory Center, an addition to the satellite facility at 6527 Jefferson St. in New Port Richey.

The occasion also will celebrate the Jefferson Room addition. The 2,300-square-foot room was completed last year.

Donors made both projects possible with large gifts, Red Apple CEO Steve Giammichele emphasized.

The nonprofit institution now caters to 143 developmentally disabled adults ages 18 and older at several Adult Training Center facilities, Giammichele said. When Red Apple moved to its Kentucky Avenue headquarters in July 2004, the center had 22 students, five staff members and two vans.

Neal launched Red Apple in 1995. The first five students walked through the door in August 1996 at the original location at 5220 Grand Blvd. in the small, city-owned building at Kulhawik Park on a tiny patch of land next to the former Community Hospital.

Through it all, Neal’s motto has endured: “What I Am To Be, I Am Becoming.”

Grants helped make the new Sensory Center possible. By chance, Red Apple Chief Operating Officer Kerry Rondeau was introduced to leaders of the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring by way of Rasmussen College. The college sends some of its nursing students to Red Apple for training.

The foundation contributed $20,000 toward the Sensory Center project.

Trudy Acevedo, quality assurance coordinator for Red Apple, brought up the concept for a sensory room.

“People with disabilities, particularly those with a diagnosis of autism, often experience sensory overload or can have the opposite effect tuning out all sensory (input) around them,” Rondeau wrote in a Red Apple flyer.

“A balance between relaxation and activity can be provided in a safe environment for the person,” Rondeau added.

In a separate building on the campus, the Sensory Center will have aroma machines, bubble column machines, fiber optic curtains, various textures around the room and a laser projector that can beam a display of stars on the ceiling.

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