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Ridgefield's Prospector Theater Shines Spotlight On The Disabled

Employees of the Upside Down Cafe at the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. Photo Credit: Nicole Kasseris
An employee playing on a pink piano at the Prospector Theater. Photo Credit: Nicole Kasseris
The Star Bar shines bright at the Prospector. Photo Credit: Nicole Kasseris
Artwork is displayed throughout the Prospector. Photo Credit: Nicole Kasseris
The ceiling of the Upside Down Cafe is covered in pennies. Photo Credit: Nicole Kasseris

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. – When Valerie Jensen restored the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield to its original glory as a movie house, she accomplished much more than just offering a new spot to see first-run movies on the big screen. 

Jensen offers employment and educational opportunities — as well as hope — to adults with disabilities through jobs at the Prospector, which operates as a nonprofit.  

“The Prospector Theater is a unique vocational training ground that hopes to equip adults with disabilities with the transferrable skills they need to turn passions into professions,” said Mike Santini, development director of the Prospector Theater.

Jensen agreed, saying that training is the theater's mission. 

“The answer to the unemployment epidemic among adults with disabilities is in our own backyard, on every Main Street in America. Small businesses are missing out on a huge resource that lies in the incredible talent pool of the 57 million talent Americans with disabilities, who are willing, competent, and able to work,” she said.

The building, constructed in 1939, served as a single-screen theater for 40 years. It was then turned into a bank for another 40 years.

But when Jensen heard that the building on Prospect Street was slated for demolition, she got the idea to save it and to offer hope to those with disabilities. 

"The Prospector Theater is a new model of social enterprise," according to its website. "It pairs a first-run, commercial movie theater with the mission of training and employing adults with disabilities. ...

"It shows how community groups, businesses, and people in the private sector – working together – can improve the quality of lives for those with disabilities, while lessening the financial burden on the government and helping boost employment rates."

Jensen put her vision to work — using her signature pink and sparkle. The color pink represents passion, professionalism, pride, and power, she said. “Sparkle” is the in-house term for the hidden talents and passions that each Prospect employee has, Jensen said.

The theater officially opened Nov. 20, after over two years of work. 

For movie fans, the theater offers:

  • full accessibility under the Americans With Disability Act;
  • 3D/HD capable projectors;
  • four screens;
  • a restaurant, bar and café; 
  • unique mission-oriented artwork;
  • and a training and education room.

Chef Raffaelle Gall integrates the theater's mission through weekly training sessions for those working within The Star Bar.

For more information and to see what's playing, visit the website for the Prospector Theater. This week, you can enjoy the "Minions," "Jurassic World" and "Inside Out" on the big screen.  

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