Milestone Anniversary Celebrated by Statewide Non-Profit

Woodbridge-based Marrakech, Inc. has been collaborating with the State of Connecticut for the past 48 years in providing support for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, acquired brain injury, people with socio and economic disadvantages and others who need assistance in living with quality and independence in their communities.

Currently, Marrakech employs 750 Connecticut residents and supports just over 1,200 people.  When Marrakech held the organization’s 29th Annual Founders’ Award Ceremony earlier this year, attended by nearly 300, in addition to celebrating achievement and bestowing awards and recognition, participants took note of the first state-enabled pay increase of note in more than a decade.

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Individuals and organizations awarded that evening exemplified “the principles and philosophy of the founders of Marrakech through their actions.” Those qualities include commitment, dedication, a “can-do” attitude and involvement in a visionary project aimed at creating positive change in the community, according to officials.  Several awards and special recognitions were announced throughout the evening, including:

  • Special Recognition of two retiring Board members, Lou Celantano and Ruth Werth;

  • Employer of the Year Award to Walgreens - Store #6474 in New Haven;

  • Arthur L. Ratner Accessibility Award to Gateway Community College Student Accessibility Services;

  • Suzanne N. Jovin Volunteer of the Year award to Ron Pilkowicz, a Best Buddy, who grew into family for one of the Marrakech Residents - for over 25 years.  

  • The Founders' Award to CT DDS Families First, a grassroots family advocacy group. 

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Also recognized were over 100 Marrakech employees with 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of service.

“The private nonprofit sector partners with the state to provide supports in order to assist people with disabilities to live life as self-sufficiently as possible,” explained Marrakech President & CEO, Heather LaTorra. “We save money and provide quality; we are part of Connecticut’s solution to our limited resources.”

Officials noted that January 2019 was first time Marrakech – with an extensive reputation for providing a broad array of programs for children and adults with and without disabilities - received increased funding for their State Contracts to provide most of its staff a meaningful increase in pay since July 2006.   

“These dedicated, passionate employees came to work every day to support the people they care about despite the low wages and lack of increases,” officials explained.  Efforts to urge legislators to support their efforts continue, including collaborations to “advocate on behalf of the people we support, people on waiting lists for service, our staff, and the fiscal wellbeing of our organization, which encompasses properties, vehicles, health insurance costs, and innovation.”

The organization’s mission is plainly stated: “We assist individuals who face barriers to securing employment, connecting to necessary supportive services, accessing housing, and participating fully as contributing members of the community. The individuals we serve are encouraged to strive for long-term goals such as a higher level of self-sufficiency and greater acceptance by the community in which they live.”  

They provide “support to people with challenging behaviors, families with complex needs, youth who are at risk, and people without disabilities who are unemployed and underemployed.”

Founded by two Yale Students and their professor back 1971, Marrakech has been providing quality, innovative supports, including residential and employment, that are person centered and less expensive than some traditional models. More information about Marrakech can be found at


Photo: 20-year employees of Marrakech, Inc., pictured with President & CEO, Heather LaTorra include (L-R): Jeff Andrus of Orange, Lisa Jardin of Torrington, Diane Corley of New Haven, Laureen Dunning of New Haven, Jill Cretella of Meriden, Erika Shields of West Haven, and Alan Emmerich of Guilford.