Zack's Place

by Dail Frates from Woodstock

Dail Frates (I took it )
Dail Frates (I took it )

The first time I ever spent time with Zack Frates his smile made me feel welcome and relaxed. Zack Frates and I became very close immediately and I eventually became his stepmother. Zack had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. He had very limited motor skills and virtually was unable to communicate verbally. His contagious smile said it all and he welcomed people into his world and made the world around him comfortable. His father and I combined our two families in 2005. Together we were a chaotic family of 7 with 4 children in the local high school and one in the elementary. Because of Zack's disability he required constant care. He was fed through a tube because he did not have the muscular control to chew and swallow food. He wore diapers and had to be lifted to the wheel chair from his bed, the car, or wherever. Despite Zack's circumstances he was very cognitive and understood the world around him and any verbal communications. He always had a sunny disposition.

Norm Frates, my husband and Zack's father, made it his mission to include Zack in whatever he was doing. That could mean baseball, waterskiing, downhill skiing, meeting a friend for a beer, taking a walk.  Zack is from a small town in Woodstock, Vermont with a population of 3000.  Zack had many friends in the community and they were comfortable talking to Zack and became comfortable around our special needs population. At school Zack had a great group of close knit classmates in and outside of his community classroom. It was wonderful for Zack and his friends to be so beloved at school and to have a good curriculum.

As Zack aged, Norm began wondering what life would look like for someone who would be aging out of the school system but not able to go to college or off to a job. He was concerned for his continued happiness and searched for programs unsuccessfully for Zack after high school. Norm had dreamed of a place where people with special needs could join together with volunteers, instructors and friends and where activities would offer a valuable and enriching day.

Zack's Place was founded in 2007 in answer to the daunting problem facing my husband, our family, and my then 16 year old stepson, Zack Frates, who would age out of the school system in six years.  Zack had cerebral palsy that left him with significant disabilities and which prevented him from enjoying the opportunities of a mainstream graduating student. My husband had dreamed of a place where people with special needs could join together with volunteers, instructors and friends and where activities would offer a valuable and enriching day. As this problem was a common one for many people with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities in our area, participants from Woodstock and the Upper Valley area quickly joined to be a part of the enrichment center we created for Zack.


Zack's Place (ZP) began as a free, not-for-profit, afterschool program and grew into an extended day program in the spring of 2009.  As the popularity and awareness of the program grew, we had past graduates join us and the local high school started bringing students during the school day to participate in the extended day programs. Many of those individuals are still with us now as full time participants. Indeed, in 2010 we had so many participants that we needed a larger space to continue our mission so we relocated to 73 Central Street. The new space serves us well, being centrally located and much more spacious.  The program increased to a full day in the fall of 2010 and today serves more than 45 people with special needs offering them artistic, physical and intellectual stimulation, and is still totally free.


Although Zack could not walk or talk he had choices of how he could live his life. Zack chose to be a hero through his sunny disposition. He had a lot of aches and pains and was totally cognitive of his situation as he went to all of his siblings competitive games and races. He watched as they dated and went to parties and he waited as they went to college and left home to return. Through it all he had a warm gracious smile and celebrated life every day to its fullest. He made the world joyful and comfortable with our special needs population. Today if you visit Woodstock you will find a Village that loves our special needs population and stops to chat and catch up on their lives. Through that interaction the hero surfaces in everyone, thanks to Zack.

Page created on 12/4/2014 5:33:55 PM

Last edited 1/5/2017 8:59:48 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Zack's Place - Zack's Place Website
Fundraiser for Zack's Place 5k Thanksgiving Day walk and run - Register for the Turkey Trot
Click here to donate to Zack's Place - Make a donation

Author Info

"It was a sunny morning during the Spring and I took off on a walk around this quaint little New England town I had come to visit called Woodstock, Vermont. Around the bend I saw an inviting storefront building that said "Enrichment Center". I walked in and discovered Zack's Place! Inspired by someone who I had never met I sensed the legendary presence of this person who had inspired so many. Zack's Place is a special place for people with special needs. I had seen pods of this wonderful group of participants strolling through town on occasion, always appearing to be joyful, friendly, buoyant and bright. And the town folks respond to them with an endearment that is palpable. Even more special as I found the heroes of this vintage community are the very special people of Zack's Place. The story behind this incredible adventure is even more special!"