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Center for People With Special Needs To Open in Lebanon; Party Planned

 Lisa Green and John Fenley recently founded Spark, a community center for adults with special needs, their families and caregivers, and “caring members of the Upper Valley.” Northlight Digital photograph

Lisa Green and John Fenley recently founded Spark, a community center for adults with special needs, their families and caregivers, and “caring members of the Upper Valley.” Northlight Digital photograph

Lebanon — A new community center for adults with special needs is expected to open soon in Lebanon, and organizers are celebrating.

A free party announcing the creation of “Spark” is set for March 26, at 7 p.m., at AVA Gallery and Art Center, 11 Bank St. It will feature live music, refreshments and speakers, including Spark cofounders John Fenley and Lisa Green, as well as Dail and Norm Frates, of Zack’s Place in Woodstock. Gov. Maggie Hassan has also been invited to speak.

The event, which is open to the public, will also kick off the nonprofit’s fundraising campaign. The organization hopes to raise $130,000 for program and event development, furnishings, rent and operating costs, Green said in a telephone interview last week.

The community center is expected to open in May or June.

“We have identified a perfect location that we are hoping to seal the deal on soon,” Green said. “We hope to sign something in April.”

Spark is designed for adults with special needs, their families and caregivers, and “caring members of the Upper Valley,” organizers said in a recent news release. It aims to fill a need in the community and “ignite a revolution regarding how society perceives people with special needs.”

“Everyone has a hidden talent or gift worth sharing with the world, a ‘spark,’ ” organizers said. “But too often that spark is overlooked in people with disabilities, many of whom live isolated lives at home with few affordable and accessible opportunities in the Upper Valley.”

The center’s goals include providing social and educational programs to help adults with special needs meet their full potential, along with programs to “foster and enhance” the integration of people with special needs into the community.

Fenley, a disability rights advocate, is president of the self-advocacy group Upper Valley Neighbors. Green, whose 22-year-old son has autism and epilepsy, is a member of the Upper Valley Parents Task Force, which includes parents and caregivers of people with special needs.

Their inspirations for creating the community center include Zack’s Place, LifeArt in Keene, N.H., and Great Bay Services in Portsmouth, N.H.

Spark is seeking volunteers to teach a class, join a planning committee, or help with the handicapped accessible community garden planned the property, organizers said.

They are also looking for furniture and supplies for the center, along with monetary donations of any size.

For more information, email sparkcommunitycenter@gmail.com, or call 603-359-7116. — Aimee Caruso