LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For the last 20 years, thousands of Kentuckiana's intellectually challenged adults have called the St. Mary's Center their home away from home.  Co-founder Sister Regina Bevelacqua left her job as principal of what is now known as Pitt Academy to fill what she says was a big need. 

Bevelacqua says, "When we graduated our students, there was no place for them to go after graduation.  And one of the students said, 'Don't forget us after graduation.'" 

Mary Jo Payne, who founded St. Mary's with Sister Regina, says, "Parents were coming to us and saying, ‘They're sitting home, they're getting heavier, they're just couch potatoes watching TV.'  They were depressed.  A lot of them were not even motivated to do much interaction with their family members."

St. Mary's has changed all that by offering people not just a place to socialize and pass the day.  They exercise, take music classes, and learn skills they need in their daily lives -- using a computer, adding up money, and making healthy eating choices. 

But there's a lot St. Mary's hasn't been able to offer at the former Middletown United Methodist Church.  That is about to change, thanks to a brand new building on Aiken Road in Middletown that's about to be the center's new home.  It's been a long time coming.  But, now, after three years of construction, built bit-by-bit by grants, fundraisers, and lots of donations and volunteer hours, the $2 million project is almost ready. 

On the day we paid a visit, some of the people St. Mary's serves had the chance to come over for a sneak peek, and to send a thank-you to their most famous donor, Jennifer Lawrence.   She arranged for a special preview of her latest Hunger Games movie "Catching Fire" at the Tinseltown Theatre on November 20.  The sold-out event is raising $43,750 for St. Mary's.

One of the most noticeable differences of the new building -- it's all one level, with no more stairs to struggle with.  Other new features will allow St. Mary's for the first time to teach job skills.  Participants will learn to use an industrial dishwasher in the new kitchen, and in the Papa John's room, they'll fold pizza boxes and attach coupons for local restaurants, and actually learn how to make pizzas, with hopes of landing a job. 

St. Mary's will also now be able to afford to offer speech and physical and occupational therapy, because it will serve more people and have more income.  And there will be a garden.  Participants will grow their own produce, then sell it at local farmer's markets.

The building is very much a community effort.  The land it sits on was donated, as was every cabinet, every chair, and every room.  The music room was the work of a Girl Scout, who got a local business to donate the instruments, while she provided the decorating.

Sister Regina says, "When I think about Star Drywall, all they put into that building.  It cost over $150,000, and they charged us 50.  Those are the kinds of things that happened there that we were able to do what we've done so far."

There is still work to do.  The 10,000-square-foot gym is currently being used as a storage area.  But when it's finished, St. Mary's clients will no longer have to wait until late hours for other gyms to become available.  For Sister Regina, the new building is an answer to prayers -- she's overjoyed at what it will mean for the people she considers her children.   Bevelacqua says, "I can hardly wait to get over here in the mornings.  Just to be greeted by these wonderful people.  It's just wonderful to be here." 

You can donate to St. Mary's to help finish the new facility by clicking here.

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