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Advocacy Network Donates $17,000 to Whole Children

HADLEY — The Advocacy Network, a local organization with a mission to promote and protect the health, human rights, and safety of people with developmental disabilities, recently donated $17,000 to Whole Children. The donation was one of the last acts of the group, which announced it is dissolving after more than 60 years of work.

“We’re winding down our organization, and the board of Advocacy Network wants to help others with like-minded missions,” said board member Ed Orzechowski. “Every time we’ve visited Whole Children, we’ve seen young people socializing, developing artistic and musical talents, enjoying life in nurturing surroundings. We’re very pleased to support the programs and staff of Whole Children. We know we found the right place.”

The late Benjamin Ricci, an Advocacy Network member, was the father of Belchertown State School patient Robert Ricci. He filed a class-action lawsuit against the school in 1972, claiming that its residents were living in horrific conditions. The judge assigned to the Belchertown case, Joseph Tauro, who died in November, spearheaded a major overhaul of Massachusetts’ state facilities as a result of the lawsuit, which ultimately ended in the closing of the institution.

Amherst resident Bob Ricci, the man named in the lawsuit against Belchertown, came to Whole Children with members of the Advocacy Network to deliver the check to director Maggie Rice.

“We are honored by this generous donation,” said Rice. “We are grateful to be reminded of the hard work of the parents who came before us in advancing the rights of people with disabilities.”

Whole Children was started in 2004 by a group of parents looking for after-school programs for their children with intellectual disabilities or autism. It joined with Springfield-based Pathlight in 2010 and has expanded to serve some 600 adults, teens, and children each year in a variety of recreation, performing-arts, and enrichment programs.

“This donation will help us keep our classes affordable so that all families can come to Whole Children,” Rice said. “It’s important to us that no child be shut out from this amazing community.”

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