Center planning to transform Utica facility into a 60-unit apartment building; at least 12 units will be for people with autism and related developmental disabilities
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
One in 59 U.S. children will be diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many, the support they receive early in life makes a difference with how they fit in with their community and also the opportunities available to them for socialization, recreation and employment.
The Kelberman Center, with offices in Syracuse and Utica, serves people affected by autism and their families in all of these areas, beginning with preschool for children diagnosed as early as age 2.
The Kelberman Center provides early intervention through preschool. While preschool has helped many people know about the Kelberman Center, that’s not all the organization offers.
“A lot of people may know of just one area that we focus on,” said Eryn Balch, managing director of business operations at the Kelberman Center. “A lot say, ‘We thought you had only a preschool!’”
Through different life stages, the Kelberman Center offers various programs. For school-aged students, the center has worked with more than 65 different school districts.
“We can work with them to support a specific child,” Balch said. “And we can work with administrators to do broader training for teachers and staff so people with autism can be more successful in regular classrooms.”
The Kelberman Center also organizes after-school and social events, including such activities as bowling club, cooking group, camping, Lego club and activities at The Root Farm in Sauquoit in the Mohawk Valley region.
“A lot of times, it’s great to meet other families who ‘get it’ and share their struggles and successes,” said Balch.
As participants grow up, the Kelberman Center offers programs for pre-vocational services. This year marks the second supported internship program with Utica College.
“We help with job coaching and trying different career skills,” Balch said. “Utica College lets our students work in different departments throughout the campus.”
The 10-month program allows participants to work alongside a job coach.
Meanwhile, the organization has purchased the building at 2507 Sunset Ave. with tentative plans to transform it into a 60-unit apartment building. At least 12 units will be reserved for people with autism or related developmental disabilities who may need some extra support.
“A ‘paid neighbor’ will be someone on-call who can help just in case they need it,” Balch said. “A lot of young adults with autism have a routine and things they do during the day but overnight is sometimes more difficult. A place to go where you know people are there to help opens up a world of opportunity.”
As a mixed-use building, it may also contain office space on the first floor. The organization hasn’t entirely finished its planning at this point. Balch said that the Kelberman Center hopes to expand to a greater geographic area.
“We’re finding there are a lot of families in need,” Balch said. “We want to continue to grow to meet the needs throughout Central New York. We want to work more closely with schools and other community organizations.”
“Fifty thousand kids across the U.S. age out of school-based autism services every year. In 10 years, that’s half a million people who’ll need some kind of support. Many are willing to find a way to be independent – they just need more opportunities,” she added.