The community has a valuable new resource right in town — 16/W (pronounced 16 West), a community spot where integration is possible.

Despite many of the recent changes, Christie Lane Industries (CLI) hasn’t lost one of its main focuses of making a unified community, according to John Schwartz, CLI chief executive officer and manager of the new 16/W, located at, of all places, 16 West Main St. in downtown Norwalk.

“There’s been a lot of changes in what we do and what we do for people with disabilities and what pertains to them,” Shwartz said.

“(But) our mission is to help our people get integrated into the community. That can be hard to do. If someone has a significant disability, it’s hard to get out of the sheltered workshop on the outside of town to come (into town). Where as here, they can walk or wheel out the front door and access the library or other places downtown.”

It wasn’t just about CLI’s clients, though.

 “It’s a great place for the community to use and it’s also really good for us,” he said.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to access. We made it the space we did so we could do things to bring the community in. Then when the community’s in, it’s also integrated. It’s not just a person going out. It’s a person coming in.

“We also wanted to add value to the community,” Shwartz added. “And we wanted space. We wanted to add value to downtown Norwalk. I really like that Norwalk is kind of a cool little town because there are always things going on and people do invest in the downtown and we wanted to be a part of that.”

So will the space be used for?

“We’re mostly using the back of it for daily use,” he said.

“People have lunch here as they’re out and about. Then we do activities, like this weekend we’re hosting a wine tasting Friday and then an art program on Saturday. All the proceeds from the wine tasting on Friday go to support the PiggyBack Foundation and we hope to have a couple of our folks working then too, so it’ll be another chance for integration.”

The beautifully renovated space is available for rent as well.

“The community at large actually can rent the space for $100 an hour, with a minimum of a $300 rental,” he said.

“So we figured if we rent it out 33 times in the year, it ends up paying for the mortgage, so it ends up being a free space — win-win.”