By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) – A Denver organization serving adults and children with developmental disabilities is making big steps toward expansion. As it prepares to celebrate 70 years of success, Laradon is focusing on affordable homes for its families as well as the surrounding community.

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(credit: CBS)

“Well you have to understand, 70 years ago, we’re talking about the 1940s, and they started with one building and one program, the school and as Joe Calabrese said ‘The kids grow up!’ So today, we have 14 programs and serving 700 kids and adults. Next year we’ll have 16 programs,” said Laradon CEO Doug McNeill.

In 1948, Joseph and Elizabeth Calabrese invested their life savings into a program that would give their sons, Larry and Don, the same opportunities as every other child. Both Larry and Don were born with developmental disabilities.

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(credit: CBS)

“The social norms at the time were just to get them out of our sight,” said McNeill.

Joseph and Elizabeth would help not only their sons, but close to 10,000 children before they passed away.

“They were remarkable. They devoted their entire lives to those kids and those who followed,” McNiell said.

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Larry and Don Calabrese (credit: CBS)

He wishes they could see how their mission has grown.

In July, a newly renovated school hall was opened following storm damage. The renovation was the first phase in a much larger plan.

“Across the street we’re building a 91 unit affordable housing complex, and we’re putting a number of our adult programs on the first floor. Up above there will be four stories of one, two and three bedroom apartments. We’re going to focus on the families we serve, the staff we employ and then the people in our community who live here in Denver,” said McNeill.

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CBS4’s Jamie Leary interviews Doug McNeill. (credit: CBS)

The 91 units will be ready in December of 2019, but the school doesn’t plan to stop there.

“We’re going to be working with Habitat (for Humanity), and they’re going to build seven town houses, and we’re going to focus on the same populations. Then once we ID a healthcare partner, we’re going to build another phase, maybe with up to 200 units.”

CBS4 had the chance to meet an advocate for Laradon and former student, Dennis Carbrey.

Now 56 years old, Carbrey gives back to the organization that gave him so much.

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“It’s given me a place to call home after all these wonderful years of my life,” he said.

Carbrey started as a student at Laradon when he was 9 years old. Now, he attends monthly meetings. He is part of a group called the Laradon Officers. He contributes ideas to important subjects at Laradon, like self-advocacy.

It’s what Laradon taught him. He learned how to be independent. He was able to land a job. He even fell in love at Laradon.

“She’s fabulous!” he said enthusiastically.

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(credit: Dennis Carbrey)

Dennis says he and Sharon have been dating now for 20 years, and he is happy. He has been able to maintain two steady jobs and a steady relationship.

He hopes the progress Laradon is making continues so others can have the same opportunities he did.

“I’m just ecstatic. When I look at that building, I think ‘Wow… they can do this in a matter of months and we’ll have apartments?'” he said of the affordable housing.

Many adults with developmental disabilities at Laradon will have the chance to take advantage of the new units.

“You can do anything you put your mind to. If you want to live independently we’ll get it going for you in the right direction,” said Carbrey.

“We’re building skills and tools and behaviors so that these kids and adults can be more successful back in their home communities,” said McNeill.

Laradon is hosting a carnival on Sept. 13 to celebrate 70 years of service. It starts at 10 a.m. and all are welcome to attend.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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