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Assoc. for Community Living Unveils New Name, Partnership with VVM

SPRINGFIELD — Ruth Banta, executive director of the Assoc. for Community Living, announced that the organization has changed its name to Pathlight to underscore the breadth and scope of the services it has offered to people with intellectual disabilities in the community since 1952.

Banta also announced that, in continuing the organization’s long-standing innovative spirit, Pathlight has partnered with Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) to offer the Pathlight Challenge. The two organizations have put out a national call to startup entrepreneurs to develop technology aimed at increasing independence for people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s expected that at least two proposals from startups will be accepted by Pathlight. Those entrepreneurs will be enrolled in Valley Venture Mentors’ four-month, intensive Accelerator Program in January.

“It’s a great partnership,” Banta said. “We’re tying our history of innovation and our passion for the people that we serve to entrepreneurs’ passion for innovation and breaking barriers.”

Paul Silva, chief innovation officer at Valley Venture Mentors, said what’s key in the Pathlight Challenge is that start-ups will have access to people in the populations they are hoping to serve as they produce their innovations.

“Interfacing with stakeholders is normally hard to do,” he said. “We have created a way in which companies that are worthy can get the access they need. If they want to develop something for parents, Pathlight can connect them to parents. If they want to gain access to staff, we can connect them to staff. This will allow them to troubleshoot problems as early as possible and allow their ideas to evolve more quickly. Pathlight is giving these startups a chance to be more competitive and, thus, more likely to survive.”

Formerly vice president of administration and chief financial officer at the organization that serves people with disabilities across Western Mass. from infancy through end of life, Banta said the name change to Pathlight was part of a rebranding that began last fall as a means of solidifying the agency’s persona and outlining its key values.

“Our mission is to help people on their own unique journey to experience the life they want to live,” Banta said. “We weren’t being literal when we chose the new name, but we hope that it conveys that we shine a light on those journeys.”

She added, “what we’re hoping with the new name is that people will associate it with the breadth of the services that we offer. When people hear that a service is a Pathlight program, we want them to know that that means it is a caring, high-quality service backed by high-level expertise.”

Banta is excited about the partnership with Valley Venture Mentors, as it highlights the organization’s long-standing history of innovation. She noted that Pathlight’s history of advances dates back to its roots. “We were the first to open a community residence for people with disabilities and the first to create a shared living model for families.”

Now, she added, “we’re looking at how we serve the Millennial population of people with developmental disabilities and autism and looking at how technology can give these young adults the independence that they and their families want for them.”

The Pathlight Challenge is especially seeking solutions to issues regarding health, safety, and transportation. “Transportation is often a big hindrance to the people we serve in terms of getting to jobs and recreational opportunities,” Banta said. “We’re looking to see how technology can offer assistance there.”

Silva said he is excited about the national call for proposals that will now be launched via both organizations’ databases and online connections. The selection process will continue through October.

The Accelerator Program is a four-month, intensive program held over one long weekend a month, offering startups connections to subject-matter experts, investors, and highly engaged and collaborative peers. Those competing in the program can win up to $50,000 in grants to develop their business or product.

The Pathlight fellows will graduate from the Accelerator Program in May, when they will also unveil their new technology, Silva said.

“To our knowledge, this challenge is the first of its kind,” he added. “There are hundreds of accelerator programs in this country running every year, but I haven’t run across any that are focused on assistive technology. Assistive technology is a new focus.”

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