WESTFIELD – Philanthropist Brian Stevens officially signed his family’s $350,000 gift to Westfield State University at a ceremony on Friday. The gift is the second largest in the university’s history.
Accompanying Stevens was the family’s attorney Richard Michaud who signed in lieu of Kathy Stevens, who was at home in Marlborough with their daughter Samantha. Also present was Trustee Robert Johnson, a family friend of Stevens who originally brought the University programs to his attention at the Pathways to Excellence Gala in May. Also in the ceremony were Westfield State President Dr. Ramon S. Torrecilha, and the Hon. Michael Knapik, Executive Director of the Westfield State Foundation.
Johnson said that he had brought the Stevens to tour the university to show them that college is an extension of what is going on in public schools today. He was referring to the advances in special education for students who are intellectually or developmentally disabled, or “differently abled,” as Stevens says.
Both Johnson and Stevens have long been advocates for the disabled. Johnson (WSU-’70, ’72) was the President and CEO of Special Olympics Massachusetts for 20 years. The Stevens family, whose daughter Samantha has Down Syndrome, has generously supported that and other similar organizations with gifts of millions of dollars.
“If the programs are good, we’re very inspired by the people who introduce us to these programs,” said Stevens. He said on the tour of Westfield State he met Torrecilha, and found the whole day “inspirational.”
“These programs are going to enhance the lives of the differently-abled,” Stevens said. “We’re very proud to work with these people.”
Torrecilha said the Stevens’ were particularly drawn to the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (ICE), a state-funded grant program that provides dual enrollment in an inclusive college experience to high school students ages 18-21 that have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Torrecilha said that 25 students will be enrolled in the WSU ICE program this fall, which is the largest in the state. The program allows students to take college courses and provides them with peer mentors, educational coaches and lifestyle skills classes, and also helps them to find employment after its completion.
The Stevens’ gift will go towards funding for programs and initiatives at the new Science and Innovation Center, the first new building on campus in 40 years, which is slated to open in August. To recognize their generosity, the university will name the courtyard of the building as “The Stevens Family Courtyard.”