By Kim Jackson
Special To The Standard
On Monday, candles burned outside of Zack’s Place on Central Street in Woodstock in celebration of the life of Zack Frates, the inspiration behind the community enrichment center for people with disabilities, who passed away peacefully in his home on Sunday. He was 22. Volunteers and participants left notes and prayers with crayons and magic markers on a picnic table covered by a large while piece of paper. A memorial service will be held to celebrate the life of Frates tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m. at the Union Arena in Woodstock.
“With profound sadness, we write to inform you of the unexpected passing of Zack Frates on Sunday, Sept. 25,” Zack’s Place Board of Directors wrote in an email Tuesday. “Since childhood, Zack had a larger-than-life personality. His mere presence, that touched so many of us, will be deeply missed by all. Now, more than ever, we feel the need to sustain our commitment to his dream and to his peers. Zack’s Place will continue. We will uphold our mission to provide a haven and community enrichment to those in need. Although he is not here with us physically, his spirit, and the memory of his warm smile will be the beacon which continually guides us. Thank you for your kind support in this difficult time.”
Zack’s Place was founded by Norm and Dail Frates in 2006. According to the center’s website, “the Frates dreamed of a relaxed environment where Norm’s son Zack and his friends would be free to express themselves with other artistic people from the community. This vision for a community enrichment center was realized in the Fall of 2006 when Zack’s Place opened its doors. Now, Zack and his friends look forward to gathering several times each week and together enjoy art, music, dance, and exercise while developing life-long bonds.”
As a result, Zack’s inspiration has provided a center that is a flurry of activity on a daily basis and includes activities like art, music, yoga, cooking, community outreach, boating on the Connecticut River, field trips and swimming in the summer, and even the production of a musical last spring.
“Zack was just the most relaxed, laid back, fun loving guy that you could ever meet,” said Anthea Lavallee, the first executive director of Zack’s Place. “He was the first to laugh at a joke, and he just enjoyed whatever it was that we were doing, and he enjoyed it regardless of any physical limitations. You could see the sparkle in his eyes. He never seemed to be unhappy and always had a glint and glimmer in his eyes.”
Helen Norton travels from Thetford with her daughter, Erin, to participate and volunteer in the activities at the center.
“Connecting has been really great, and she is so motivated to do things with her friends,” said Norton of her daughter. “The program has evolved in such a positive way. Zack was a wonderful guy with a beautiful smile, handsome eyes and was a very expressive young man. It was fun to walk in Woodstock. It felt like being with a local celebrity.”
According to Sarah Rasmussen, a Killington resident and parent of a child with a disability, Zack would be at the Union Arena every Tuesday in the winter for inclusive skate, always with a smile on his face.
“It was always a pleasure to see Zack out on the ice because it made you, as a parent, feel that everyone is welcome there,” said Rasmussen. “It is truly an inclusive skate. Having a child who prefers to lie on the ground and play on the ice than stand up on the ice and skate; it was a nice environment to go there.”
All are welcome at Zack’s Place, regardless of age or ability, and programs are provided at no cost to participants. Over the past 12 months, Zack’s Place has provided more than 1,000 hours of programming, with staff spending an average of 20 hours per week with participants. Zack’s Place will continue on, knowing that the inspiration behind its founding will carry on, too.
“With absolute certainty, no one will forget Zack,” said Lavallee. “He had such an important impact on this community, that spirit and love of life, you could just see it.”
An obituary notice can be found in this issue of the Standard.
By Kim Jackson