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New program for adults with special needs works to open amid COVID-19
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New program for adults with special needs works to open amid COVID-19


Matthias Academy, a new nonprofit enrichment program for adults with mild to severe disabilities on the grounds of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Bristol, is preparing to open as scheduled Sept. 1.

The staff, eager to welcome the first-year students, is working on renovations and awaiting guidance from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on how to proceed as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.

“We are doing everything on our end to meet our goal of opening September 1,” director Liz Pumala wrote in an update to students Thursday. “While we will be ready on our end, the final decision on our opening date is somewhat out of our control. We continue to face the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pumala said the academy, at 12603 224th Ave., will need state Department of Health Services approval to officially open and begin programming.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance,” Pumala said. “The size of our building allows for each student and staff member to have plenty of room for social distancing.”

There are 41 students who are committed to attend Matthias, and the academy will be able to accept up to 50 students to maintain a two student to one staff member ratio “during these uncertain times,” Pumala said.

Plans for the program began two years ago, and the location on the shore of Benet Lake near the Wisconsin and Illinois border was officially announced early this year, just prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 health crisis.

“It’s a beautiful and serene setting and an ideal location for us as we look forward to having students from both states at the academy,” Pumala said when announcing the location. “This place is everything we could have asked for in a starting location while we continue to raise funds for our dream facility.”

The 20,000-square-foot building has space for individualized programming based on the needs and goals of each adult student, who will not “age out” of Matthias Academy.

In addition to enrichment classes, Matthias will offer additional supports such as physical therapy, speech therapy, skilled nursing and assistive technology, Pumala said.

Pumala said the academy was made possible by the hard work of future students and their families, who helped raise more than $400,000, and by other generous donations to the land and building campaign.

Fundraising is ongoing to build a permanent facility that will include a residential component. The vision for the future property includes a rural market retail storefront with space for a thrift store, bookstore, coffee shop and bakery, gift and garden store and a bike shop.

Classrooms will be located behind the storefront where students can take courses in daily living, marketing, graphic design, horticulture, fashion and culinary arts, for example.

For enrollment information email For more information or to make a donation, visit


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