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Bethesda Lutheran Communities has opened an innovation center in downtown Milwaukee where it plans to develop assistive technology for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The research and development hub is located in the Germania Building at 135 W. Wells St., which the Watertown-based organization said positions it near university and corporate partners. Bethesda announced the opening of the new center this week, along with its intention to rebrand under a new name, AbleLight, beginning next year. The name change will go into effect. Jan. 10, 2022. It was chosen to reflect the 117-year-old organization’s evolution from a small, local group home to a multi-state organization that provides a variety of services to promote independence for people with disabilities. Bethesda said innovations conceived at the new Milwaukee center, such as assistive smart home technology for people with disabilities, will be developed and launched across the country. Innovation and technology is one of the organization’s priority areas as it changes its corporate name, Bethesda said in its announcement. “Our purpose is clear – we believe the world shines brighter when people with developmental disabilities achieve their full potential,” said Cesar Villalpando, chairperson of the Bethesda board of directors in an announcement this week. “With more than 7 million Americans who have an intellectual or developmental disability, our services are more essential than ever before. And our unique approach to supporting the whole person and our drive to continuously improve the world for people with disabilities are what set AbleLight apart in the disability field.” The new name also solidifies a shift in Bethesda’s model that has already been underway in recent years. This summer, North Carolina-based Broadstep Behavioral Health closed on the acquisition of Bethesda’s group homes in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Meanwhile, Bethesda is investing in a new housing strategy by developing integrated apartment buildings for residents with disabilities and those who don’t have disabilities. The organization opened its first location using that housing model, called Cornerstone Village, in a Minneapolis suburb and is planning a 68-unit building at 3200 W. Highland Blvd. on Milwaukee’s near west side, along with a similar possible development at an undisclosed Milwaukee-area site. Bethesda leaders say the housing approach fosters more inclusion in the community while promoting greater independence among adults with disabilities. The organization said this week it plans to also expand its Bethesda College program, a two-year postsecondary certificate program for students with intellectual and development disabilities that’s currently offered at Concordia University Wisconsin, to Concordia’s Ann Arbor, Michigan campus next fall. “Through programs like AbleLight College and our Innovation Center, and thanks to the creativity and dedication of our team, we are fulfilling our promise – to pioneer life-changing services that empower the people we serve to thrive,” said Dave Sneddon, interim president and chief executive officer of Bethesda. “We will create a bold future for people with disabilities.”