Center for Spectrum Services turns 40 with gala fundraiser

Jackie Allen of Saugerties, special educator, with Jonah, a student from the Saugerties School District who attends Center for Spectrum Services.

Jackie Allen of Saugerties, special educator, with Jonah, a student from the Saugerties School District who attends Center for Spectrum Services.

The Center for Spectrum Services, formerly known as the Children’s Annex, is rolling out the red carpet. On Friday, May 13, at the Saugerties Performing Arts Factory (details below) the community is invited to celebrate Spectrum Services’ 40th anniversary at its Hollywood Ruby Jubilee celebration. This event will serve as a fundraiser for the programs at Spectrum Services that are dedicated to improving the lives of people with autism, as well as an opportunity to honor the agency’s founders and long-time sponsors. The Center has long been recognized for its excellence and has earned itself a national reputation in its field.

Founders Jamey Wolff and Susan Buckler’s stories converged 40 years ago when Buckler placed a short press release in the Woodstock Times. “I had a dream of starting a small private school that would be outside the realm of the public sector,” said Buckler. “In the 70s, lots of kids with special needs were being put in the resource room program. I believed for some children, the resource room system wasn’t adequate.” Wolff read the release and called Buckler.

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For the two women, friendship, dedication to education, and connection over their shared dream led them to open up a school for children with developmental and physical disabilities. What started with two students in a rented church, however, quickly developed into a bustling organization with funding, staff, and students. After moving into different churches in the Woodstock and Kingston area to accommodate their growing size, Wolff and Buckler realized they needed a larger, more permanent space. “We finally found this property on a street spelled ‘Kukuk,’ which one would think would be ‘cuck-cuck,’ but it had actually been named for a family that used to farm the land, and it was pronounced ‘cuckoo.’ We knew we had found our place,” said Buckler.

Autism awareness and general information was, however, extremely low at the time of the Children’s Annex’s founding. The rate of autism in the 70s was approximately three in 5,000. “Pediatricians didn’t know an autistic child when parents were worried about their child’s development. There was still a residual feeling that autism was caused by bad parenting — it’s completely untrue. We’re talking about the Stone Age of understanding about autism,” said Wolff.

The program at the Children’s Annex doubled in population every year up to 1983. In 2004, The Children’s Annex expanded to include a diagnostic and consultative clinic for the entire community. The clinic provides state-of-the-art diagnostic services and evaluations for individuals of all ages, and offers trainings and seminars to public schools and agencies working with people with ASDs.

At the same time as the name change was effected in 2009, a new phase of capital campaign raised the funding for the Center’s Preschool wing, that is now attached to the school.

 

One in 68

Over the past 40 years, autism has become more and more recognized. The CDC now averages the rate of autism as one in 68. According to Wolff, there are three main reasons for the dramatic change in frequency. “One is that people didn’t understand autism and there was no information about early diagnosis. The second is that high functioning individuals on the spectrum were not included, so what was formerly called Asperger’s Syndrome didn’t even have a name — those individuals were referred to as ‘odd’ or sometimes misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. The third reason is that there are environmental factors that influence the incidents of autism, that, in combination with genetic predisposition, can create a higher probability that a child will be born with autism.”

Increased autism awareness brought more people into the Children’s Annex, and the school expanded to open another location in Ellenville. “About eight years ago, our Board said, ‘Your name doesn’t really describe what you do. It doesn’t talk about autism, you’re not an annex of anything, and you’re not just serving children,’” said Wolff. It was at this point that Buckler and Wolff changed the name to the Center for Spectrum Services.

Now, the two women are delighted to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the school. In addition to food, paparazzi, and a walk down the red carpet in the style of old Hollywood, they have some exciting news. “We’re kicking off an endowment at this event. Our board has just approved the Center for Spectrum Services Endowment Fund, to ensure the long term fiscal viability of the agency,” said Buckler. This will enable their work to continue for many years to come.