CHIPPEWA FALLS — Cardinal Transition Academy, which offers on-the-job training experiences for high school students with disabilities, is now fully open and operational.
The academy, which is funded by the Chippewa Falls school district, has six students this year, all ages 18-21. The academy is located within the Legacy Community Center at 26 W. Grand Ave. in downtown Chippewa Falls. The students began attending classes in the building Sept. 4, with the clothing closet and food pantry in the facility re-opening to the public this week. An open house to show off the revamped building was held Tuesday afternoon.
The district announced in June it had reached an agreement to pay the $2,000 monthly lease on the building and open the academy there, after the Legacy Community Center announced in May it was closing due to lack of funding.
Christine McMasters, director of special education and student services, is impressed with how the building has been remodeled into a school setting while also continuing to serve the public in need of assistance. A row of computers and desks lines one wall, and the building has other classroom items.
“It’s awesome,” McMasters said as she showed off the building Tuesday. “We’ve got all the programs running.”
Agnes’ Table, which provides free meals to the public, is the only service that stayed open between May and September. When students returned to school in September, they helped out at Agnes’ Table.
“The students have been assisting in breakfast, lunch, cleaning and food prepping,” McMasters said.
Amanda Turner, district transition coordinator, said the focus of the building is creating “employability skills.” She liked that the students are doing everything from helping with the meals to running the food pantry and clothing closet.
“They’ve washed and dried every single item in the clothing closet,” Turner said. “They have washed every shelf. And they are learning how to interact with other people.”
The students also are learning how to buy groceries, go to the courthouse, and banking skills.
“It’s why this location is so ideal, because it’s a central location to all those services,” Turner said.
The Cardinal Transition Academy program was developed over the summer. If the district hadn’t taken over the Legacy Community Center, those students would instead be at Chippewa Falls High School in a classroom setting.
“That’s not a real community-based situation for them to be in,” Turner said. “I’m impressed with how the students are taking ownership over it. They are getting so many different vocational experiences.”
Sally Cranston, vocational coordinator with Aurora Vocational Services, said it’s important to have a facility like this for the students to grow and develop.
“This environment is so much better than being in a school,” Cranston said. “You can’t simulate a work experience being in a school building.”
The Legacy Community Center opened its doors in June 2018 in the 2,500-square-foot building, and Agnes’ Table moved into the adjacent space in July 2018. That space had been the location of several restaurants in the past, such as Lindsey’s on Grand.
Agnes’ Table had been located in the nearby Trinity United Methodist Church, since it was created in 2004. The community meal program is named after Agnes Moore, who volunteered at a similar organization in Milwaukee for 17 years before moving to Chippewa Falls. Moore died in 2002.
Dave Gordon, Legacy Community Center president, said operating Agnes’ Table costs about $120,000 annually, and he continues to seek donations for the program.
Gordon was involved in the discussions of how to continue helping people in poverty after the sudden closure of Starting Points on Feb. 14, 2014. He said his non-profit group wants to house organizations that are filling the void after Starting Points ended. The LCC got its non-profit status in 2014.