Kristi Schall, a member of Independence Association, tosses the ribbon in the air after the official ribbon cutting of the new Independence Association facility at 3 Industrial Parkway. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — When Ray Nagel, executive director of the Independence Association first looked at the property on 3 Industrial Parkway in Brunswick in 2014, he thought the possibility of one day setting up shop there was “just a nice dream.”

But now, five years later, that dream is reality, after several years of hard work, Independence Association has a new home, and members and staff welcomed community members and local business representatives Wednesday night to check out what Deborah King of the Brunswick Downtown Association called their “new digs.” 

Ray Nagel, executive director of Independence Association thanks guests for supporting the new facility, which he said once only seemed like a dream. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

Independence Association works with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Midcoast and throughout Maine, helping them “live inclusively in their chosen Maine communities,” for more than 50 years officials said in a news release. 

The new location consolidates three other facilities, only one of which was fully accessible. It provides green space for recreation, an accessible kitchen and a fully-equipped fitness studio, among other amenities. 

The fitness studio was especially important, according to Carlene Hill Byron, director of development and communications. She told The Times Record last year that health and fitness were new focus areas for the agency. 

“There’s not a lot of good health and fitness research or programming designed for people with disabilities,” she said at the time. Nagel added that “for some of our adult clients facing the most challenges, going to a gym would require someone to go with them. … You would have to have two memberships.” This helps break down those barriers to a healthy lifestyle.

The nearly $5 million building, situated on 6 acres,  allows the agency to stay in Brunswick, Nagel said, and provides them with training space for up to 50 people, which they previously had to “beg, borrow and steal” to obtain. Independence Association serves over 400 people and has roughly 220 employees. 

The new space also helps clients age in place. 

“Our population is getting older,” Nagel said. Independence Association reports that in the last 50 years, the lifespan of people with disabilities has “increased dramatically,” with many clients living into their 60s, 70s and 80s. 

Carlene Hill Byron presents Mark Rockwood, a pastor at Berean Baptist with a picture of his church made by one of the artists at Spindleworks, an art gallery and working art studio for adults with disabilities. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

The new building allows for the consolidation of two group homes into one six-bed group home in what was previously the association’s administrative office, Nagel said. The new housing will open in March. 

The two art studios, Spindelworks in downtown Brunswick and SpinOff in Gardiner, will not move.

“It’s kind of amazing from our perspective,” Hill Byron said. 

Independence Association was started in 1966 by five families that knew their children with disabilities needed more than what they were getting from the schools at the time. The original five clients have remained part of the organization, and Nagel said they were recently able to tour the new facility. 

They were in tears, he said, just seeing “where we are from where we started.” 

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