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West Babylon center planned to teach vocational skills to adults on autism spectrum

A West Babylon-based nonprofit will break ground Tuesday on a 14,000-square-foot center that will provide vocational skills for adults on the autism spectrum.

The Winters Center for Autism will be at 92 Mahan St., an industrial section in the hamlet. It is affiliated with the Winters Family Foundation, which was founded in January by Joe and Michele Winters. Joe Winters, president of the foundation, is the chairman and CEO of West Babylon-based Winter Bros. Waste Systems.

Chris Ponzio, executive director of the center, said it will fill a critical need by offering a support system for those on the spectrum as they get older.

“The infrastructure to support the adults who want to work is not the same as the school structure,” said Ponzio, who joined the nonprofit in January after spending 30 years at the Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute. “We shouldn’t have that.”

The center will include indoor and outdoor recreational spaces for health and wellness activities. There will also be a cafe available there for the public that will be staffed by people getting vocational training for jobs in retail and food service, said Mark Cuthbertson, a Huntington-based attorney and Huntington Town councilman, during a presentation Monday to the Babylon Town Planning Board. 

The center is expected to be completed in nine months and will be built on the site of a container and storage facility owned by Winters Bros. Cuthbertson said the facility will be relocated less than a mile away at 128 Gleam St., which was purchased by Winters Bros. in 2019.

The center's creation holds personal meaning for the Winters family.

“Joe Winters’ son, Sean, has autism, and he has committed himself to raising money for autism and helping people with living arrangements for autism,” Cuthbertson told the Planning Board. “And this is just an outgrowth of this, and frankly it’s an outgrowth of the corporate culture of Winters Brothers. They employ autistic adults who work in the workplace there.”

The application for the center will require parking variances and includes an Aug. 20 public hearing before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said Kevin Bonner, a Babylon Town spokesman. Revisions are under review before the planning board for the Gleam Street property.

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