“We started as mom-and-mom operation in Woodstock, with two students in the Dutch Reformed Church,” says Jamey Wolff co-founder, with Susan Buckler, of the former Children’s Annex, now the Center for Spectrum Services. The not-for-profit group addresses the needs of people along the wide range of autism. “We worked for free for a couple of years,” Wolff recalls. “We now have two schools, in Kingston and Ellenville, and a community-based program serving 270 people of all ages, and we employ 175 staff.”
In recognition of their 35 years of service, the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce is presenting Wolff and Buckler with the Heart of Ulster County Award on October 20, at Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston.
Two nights later, at the same location, the fundraising arm of the organization, Spectrum Services Foundation, will hold its biennial benefit auction and dinner. Wolff and Buckler will be honored, along with supporters TD Bank and donor and board member Michael Schatzel, Sr. Attendees are encouraged but not required to come in costume, since Halloween is around the corner.
With tuition reimbursement rates frozen by New York State for the past two years, donations for maintaining the group’s programs is critical at this point, says Buckler, who handles the financial end of the organization, while Wolff heads operations.
Buckler describes how the school was first funded. She and her husband, photographer Alan Carey, decided to split the $4600 in wedding presents they had just received. Carey spent his share on a Subaru, and Buckler used her $2300 to start the Children’s Annex. “The car is long gone,” she notes, “but the school is still here.”
She traced the inspiration for starting the group to the initial effort at mainstreaming children with mental disabilities after the abuses at Willowbrook State School became known. “There was an abrupt change in education regulations in New York State, trying to include all people with special needs, but there was no support to the regular education programs. We wanted to provide an alternative to the blanket mainstreaming that was being tried. Since then, the pendulum has swung back to the middle, with lots of options. We can’t include people with diverse needs in the mainstream unless we attend to their needs.”
They work closely with the school districts in supporting children on the autism spectrum. The name change came about as the organization began also serving adults through diagnostic evaluations, therapy, consultations, and workshops. “Last year we produced a film for people with Asperger’s to help them understand their needs and be able to advocate for themselves,” notes Wolff.
“People don’t realize how the non-profit sector contributes significantly to the economy of the county, through employment, benefit packages for staff, and programs,” Wolff states. “Nationally, we consult on best practices for autism, and we are on several task forces for writing policies for the state. At the local level, we provide trainings and consultations to public schools, agencies, professionals, and parents. We serve 35 school districts in seven counties.”
“We accept the Heart of Ulster County Award on behalf of all the people who have put their hearts into the growth and development of the organization,” adds Buckler. “That includes staff, clients, parents, and family members. It’s a collective award.”