AHRC New York City

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Self-Advocates Meet with Legislators to Discuss Important Issues

It started will a simple question: “What do you want to do?“. The answer given by a number of people during CQL interviews led to a path of advocacy that will lead the way for others. Self-advocates supported by AHRC New York City were given the opportunity to discuss issues of importance to them directly with legislators, legislative leaders and the Governor’s staff in Albany this February.

Group

Kristen Thatcher and Paul Scherzinger, both of whom attend or graduated from AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the College of Staten Island, were joined by Jessica Giorgio, Higher Education Support ProfessionalCarmine Cammarata, Commuity Support Professional, and Al Kaplan, AHRC NYC’s Senior Policy Advisor. At several sessions organized by Carole Gothelf, Director of Individualized Supports and Matthew Weiler, Program Director at the College of Staten Island and Kingsborough Community College, prior to their trip to Albany, they met to prepare for this exciting opportunity to speak for themselves about their lives and what they as citizens wanted from their legislators. Al Kaplan spent several hours over several sessions advising the group on the logistics of budget legislation, the way government operates, as well as assisting them in understanding how to state their case and the specific issues that are at play legislatively at the current time.

Legislators pick and choose what issues they focus on, and so do we,” Al explained. “You have things that are a concern to you, and you want the people who represent you to know what they are.”

Al gave Kristen and Paul an assignment to bring to one of the meetings. He asked them to answer three questions:

“Who am I/what’s my story?”

“Why am I here/what are my concerns and issues?”and

“What do I want you (our representative) to do?”

Kristen, who is 26 wanted to focus her conversation with legislators on employment issues. “I want to talk with them about jobs for people with disabilities,” she said. “I don’t think there are enough jobs and we’re limited in the kind of jobs we can get.

Paul decided to talk about an issue that was personally affecting him. “My issue is that Medicaid stopped covering my physical therapy after 26 weeks,” he said. “My mom can’t afford to pay for it without insurance.”

Self advocates with Senator Andrew Lanza and Lisa Wickons of WOH Solutions; Kevin Crumb, Senator Robert Ortt’s Director of Operations. Sen. Ortt chairs the Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities; and Sharon Grobs, Assemblyman Michael Cusick’s Legislative Director

Al encouraged Kristen and Paul to speak more freely, especially when they were speaking about themselves. “When you’re meeting with the legislators, make sure you make eye contact with them,” he advised. “All people respond better when they feel that you are talking directly to them.” Al also suggested areas where Kristen and Paul may want to focus their arguments based on the most recent budget proposals available.

The day finally arrived and Kristen, Paul, Jessica, and Carmine were very excited and nervous. They did exceedingly well in speaking for themselves. They said they were most impressed with reception they received from State Senator Andrew Lanza (R), who represents most of Staten Island. “He talked a lot about our issues and listened to what we had to say,” Paul said. Sen. Lanza also said that he would specifically follow-up regarding Paul’s insurance situation.  “He was relaxed,” Kristen said. “It was just human-to-human talking, we were equals.”

I was surprised that legislators did not know about a lot of our issues,” Jessica said. “Al told us though that there are so many issues facing the budget that legislators often don’t know anything other than what they are working on.”

Kristen, Paul and Jessica said they had a great experience in Albany speaking for themselves about themselves. Kristen has been up to the state’s capital before but only for conferences and had never met with legislators before, while this was Paul’s and Jessica’s first visit to Albany. They expressed interest not only in going there again, but also in lobbying for issues that are important to them in New York City. “I’d love to talk about making subway station more accessible,” Paul said. Kristen has been frustrated with Access-a-Ride and said “They’re not reliable and I don’t feel like they treat people with disabilities with respect.

Kristen, Paul and Jessica did a great job!” Al exclaimed. “They spoke with confidence and clearly about the issues they wanted to talk about. I think they really got their message across to the legislators, and the legislators listened.” They had fun too, spending two snowy nights in a hotel, dining out as a group and garnering the confidence to do this again and again and to help their peers do the same thing.

On to the next meeting with the MTA and the Access-a-Ride folks!

AHRC New York City Participates in Pace Film Festival

On March 25, the Third Annual Celebration of Individuals with Disabilities in Film concluded at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center. The night was culmination of a week-long festival showcasing films starring and made by people with disabilities. James Lawler, DPS, Professor of Information Technology at Pace Univeristy’s Seidenberg School chaired and organized the festival, which was free and open to the public. AHRC New York City is a community engagement partner with Pace University. Screened during the event, Lefty’s Lie: The Musical, starred and was directed by people supported and staff at AHRC NYC’s Betty Pendler New York League.

FILM MONTAGE

A distinguished panel discussed issues relating to people with disabilities in society and their portrayals in film. The panel included Victor Calise, Commissioner for the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities; Alice Elliot, Director of Welcome Change Productions; George Gallego, CEO of Wheels of Progress; Allan B. Goldstein, Lecturer at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering; Marie Hodermarska, Teacher at NYU and a parent of a person with disabilities; Gary Lind, AHRC NYC’s Executive Director; Evan Yankey, Regional Coordinator of SANYS; and Isaac Zablocki, of ReelAbilities. The panel was moderated by Marijo Russell O’Grady, PhD, Dean for Students at Pace, and Kristen Thatcher, a self-advocate and graduate of AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program at the College of Staten Island.

The first question asked to the panel regarding the portrayal of people with disabilities in film and television. Alice Eliot mentioned that she had recently worked on a movie with a filmmaker living with multiple sclerosis and said that she “feels optimistic in my little microcosm.” Isaac Zablocki suggested that Hollywood is changing, and filmmakers can now reach more people than ever before without having to use the traditional distribution methods, and expressed hope that this would greatly benefit filmmakers looking to feature people with disabilities. Victor Calise mentioned a positive and accurate portrayal in recent popular culture, Breaking Bad, which starred RJ Mitte, an actor with cerebral palsy. Gary Lind said that “personal media has a made a difference” in allowing people with disabilities to be shown how they want to be seen.

Five of the best films from the festival were screened, including: Midfield, a Portuguese short documenting the immensely satisfying work and sports life of a man who has had multiple amputations; The Kiss, a hilarious narrative featuring an unusual and awkward encounter between two couples; The Gift of Impermanence, showcasing a dance company that incorporates typical and non-typical body types; Coaching Colburn, a documentary made by students at Trinity College which profiles a man living with Fragile X syndrome and his family, and also has gorgeous cinematography; and Guest Room, a film featuring young people with Down syndrome experiencing the complications of relationships, sex, and pregnancy; it stars Lauren Potter from the TV show Glee and was featured at this year’s South by Southwest fesitival.

The films were inspiring and emotional, and helped spur spirited discussions from the audience and the panel. Towards the end of the event, George Gallego told the audience an inspiring message. “Society looks at a person with a disability and says ‘That’s something that needs to be fixed.’ I don’t need to be fixed. This is who I am.

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AHRC NYC Celebrates Siblings

Having a sibling with a developmental disability is a uniquely challenging experience that few can understand. AHRC New York City‘s Sibling Services offer a variety of ways for brothers and sisters to connect and help each other through professional assistance and peer support. On March 9th, AHRC NYC staff, leadership, families, and siblings gathered at India House in Lower Manhattan to support programs for brothers and sisters of those with disabilities and provide professionally guided opportunities for peer support and education. The night included raffles, silent auctions, food, and speeches from siblings, board members, and professionals.

Crowd

When we were growing up, many of us felt very alone,” Ruth Pickholz, AHRC NYC Board Member and a sibling of a person with disabilities, said. “We felt that we were the only ones and had no one to talk to. But now there is a place.”

Laura

Laura Kennedy, President of AHRC NYC and President of NYSARC, Inc., has a daughter with a developmental disability and stated that her first interactions with the agency were with the sibling committee. “I thought ‘Wow, this great agency really thinks about the siblings,'” she said. “When AHRC NYC was founded 65 years ago, siblings were home, siblings were not included. But over time siblings and family members are now part of the leadership and advocates for our loved ones.”

Three people supported by Sibling Services also shared their experiences. Patricia Wright has an older sister with autism. “What’s the number one question I get asked about my sister?” she said. “It’s ‘How do you live with a sibling with disabilities. It’s easy through the sibling support group.” Patricia has been attending the group since she was five years old. “I can honestly say that the sibling support group has become like family to me.” She said that she had raised money through her school for the event and that she plans to walk with friends at the upcoming Autism Speaks Walk NYC in May.

Siblings speaking

Gina and Donna Celentano also have a sister with autism, (whom is also Donna’s twin). Each of them mentioned their early struggles with coping with their sister’s disability. “I wasn’t upset at her,” Gina said, “I was upset that she had a disability and I couldn’t do anything to help her.” Donna expressed a similar, heart-wrenching sentiment. “When I was younger I used to cry to my mother because I thought I gave her a disability,” she said. “Once I came to SibShops I learned that it wasn’t my fault.” Donna said that she learned activities to help her connect with her sister. Gina also spoke on how SibShops help her cope. “They taught me ways to share my emotions and that what I was going through is completely normal.”

Artist Alex Torres Receives Art Award at Brooklyn Borough Hall

Alexander Torres, a longtime artist who receives services at Brooklyn Day Hab and is part of the art collective Artemoose, was recognized for his digital designs and paintings by the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). Alex received a Community Arts Grant, which was made possible by BAC through the support of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Group Shot copy

Alex was nominated by Megan Hummel, a former Community Support Professional at Brooklyn Day Hab who now works at a shelter in Brooklyn. “[Alex] has been working so independently in a lot of his art projects and I thought he would make a great candidate,” she said.

BB Prez and event

The grants ceremony was held on March 18 at Brooklyn Borough Hall and featured speeches by a number of distinguished guests, including Ella J. Weiss, President of BAC; Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn Borough President; and Edwin Torres, Deputy Commissioner of the Dept. of Cultural Affairs.

performances

The night also included performances by Truthworker Theater Company, a social justice oriented hip-hop and dance group, and Batala NYC, an all-female samba drumming group.

Alex salute sm

I feel happy about this grant because I love my art,” Alex said. He thanked his parents; Raquel PinnockProgram Director of Brooklyn Day HabChad DeRoche, his friend and fellow Artemoose member; Megan, for her longstanding assistance and mentorship; and “everybody who supports and helps me achieve my goals in life.” He also passed along some inspiration for his peers. “I know that people like me with disabilities can always do art and win every day. I hope that winning this grant will inspire people like me. I promise one thing by getting this award – to get more goals and achieve more. I won’t stop doing my art any day.

Yankees Take Part in the 35th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner

Yankees Magazine created this great video about the 35th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner and the meaning behind it.

The AHRC New York City Foundation is a fund-raising and grant-making entity that supports programs for children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and who live in New York City.

The Foundation is the primary source of philanthropic support for AHRC New York City, which provides a wide array of social services for approximately 15,000 people with disabilities.