MS Dream Center expands unique offerings at Pastore Center

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On any given Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you can find reiki, tai chi, or Zumba dance classes going on in the newly renovated activities room in the Pastore Center on Gansett Blvd.

The participants aren’t kids from the Y like it may have been a year ago, but rather people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who are members of the MS Dream Center.

The Pastore Center, which Mayor Allan Fung said has always been a city facility building, has been around since Mayor Michael Traficante’s time in office. When Fung first got into office, he said, there was a public-private partnership with the YMCA of Cranston for the Y to maintain the building and run their programs out of it.

The Dream Center was founded in 2010 by Marie Perna and her husband, Don. Marie has MS and Don said that they wanted to start this facility based on Marie’s “dream” to have a place for people with MS who could come during the day free of charge. Now, it’s turned into a family affair, as Don and Marie’s daughters all help out in some capacity. Donna Anderson is the programs coordinator, Anne DelSignore is the director and Debby Centracchio is a volunteer.

The facility is still free to use now – only with more space to do so. That’s because, Fung said, the city decided to exercise an out-clause with the YMCA last year to have the Y move out of the building. He said that because CCAP now owns the facility on Cranston Street, where some city offices used to be, they needed to find a new space for the Parks and Recreation offices. They decided that the Pastore Center would be the best place to do so.

Mayor Fung said that, because they also wanted to continue the relationship with the Dream Center in Cranston, the Pastore center “turned out to be perfect” after looking for other potential locations around the city.

Don said that MS requires people to have special needs, including wheel chairs or assisted devices in many cases.

“It’s almost impossible to find places in the state that meets those needs,” he said about finding a building that has handicap accessible entry, handicap parking and, as Marie made sure to add, accessible bathrooms, of which the facility at the Pastore Center has two.

The Parks and Recreation department hasn’t moved in yet, but the renovations on the building, which took around three months and were paid for by city funds, Don said, are now completed. The Dream Center now has a renovated activities room, cafeteria and office to conduct their daily activities. He said that the center was “always at the mercy of the Y before,” and has more independence now. It’s open three days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., which Don said gives enough time for its members to form relationships with each other.

Marie, who’s there each of the days either running classes or participating with the other members, said that there’s about 250 MS sufferers who come in throughout the year from all around the state, and about 50 on a weekly basis, with an average of 25 a day. Don added that that there are around 2,000 people in Rhode Island who have MS, pointing out that countless more are affected by either a family member or friend who has MS.

The center offers a “home away from home” for MS sufferers, he said.

“With MS, another issue is depression and loneliness, and being removed from society,” Don said. “People who come here feel comfortable because they’re with people who are dealing with the same thing they are. They’re able to build friendships.”

Anne DelSignore added said that it represents a safe haven for the members.

“When they’re feeling down, they come here,” she said. “It really is a happy place.”

Don said that the biggest thing they do there is exercise, because of how important it is for people with MS. Classes include dance and chair yoga, and they also do art programs.

Marie said that members run the classes for the most part, some of which who have been professionally trained. Since they all come from different backgrounds, she said, they can utilize the particular expertise they have. She also said that all the programs are done “through the eyes of someone with a wheelchair,” although participants can stand up if they choose to.

“We’re a community helping each other,” she said. “It’s a community, not just a center.”

That community includes a certified nursing assistant, Ashley Schiano, who is on hand each day to assist the members.

Dr. Jonathan Cahill, a neurologist at Rhode Island Hospital who works in the Multiple Sclerosis Center, is also involved, as he is on the Dream Center’s board and comes in monthly for a question and answer session with the members.

Although the Dream Center didn’t have to pay for building renovations, they do have expenses to deal with, especially because it is a nonprofit that doesn’t charge its member any fees to go there. Although he wouldn’t get into specific costs, Don said that the funds come from fundraising events throughout the year, including a golf tournament and wine-and-dine night at the Crowne Plaza. They also do an “annual appeal to friends,” he said.

Recently, they received a $26,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to improve their website. Don also said that last year’s golf tournament raised $22,000 and the wine-and-dine, held every September, raised around $50,000 from sponsors and donations.

Now that the renovations to their sections of the Pastore building are completed, the Dream Center will have more flexibility to run their programs and include more members from around the state.

“I’m excited for this partnership and really glad they’ve found a permanent home,” Mayor Fung said.

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