Q & A with Tara Costello

Kelberman Center’s executive director says organization is a leader in providing services to people who have autism. It serves 1,000 clients per year

By David Podos

Q: How long have you been executive director of the Kelberman Center?
A: I have been executive director since June of 2020.

Q: What is your professional background and education?
A: I am a social worker and received my master’s degree in social work from the University of Albany. I received my undergraduate degree in psychology from Utica College and received my two-year degree in chemical dependency from Mohawk Valley Community College. I started my professional career at Rome Hospital, where I was a mental health therapist. From there I went to work for Oneida County Department of Mental Heath as the director of mental health and substance abuse services. I eventually made my way to start a career with Upstate Cerebral Palsy where I was vice president of behavioral services. The Kelberman Center, where I am now, came out of UCP in 2005 and then became its own stand-alone nonprofit. Kelberman is a leader in providing disability services to people who have autism.

Q: I understand that Dr. Kelberman, for whom the organization bears his name, was influential in getting the center off the ground. Can you elaborate a bit about that?
A: Well Dr. Kelberman is the founder and current board president of the Kelberman Center. His son, Harry, who is autistic, is a very important part of this organization. The center has been built around Harry and his needs and what I mean by that is Harry is now in his 20s. Dr. Kelberman, being a parent, realized that many families who have a child who has autism, needs a place where they could go and receive services, from early childhood throughout the adult life cycle which the Kelberman Center provides.

Q: How many people are employed by the center?
A: We have approximately 350 staff that would include both full-time as well as part-time staff.

Q: What is your annual operational budget?
A: $15 million.

Q: Where does the Kelberman Center receive its money to run the organization?
A: We have private -ay. We also receive funding through the state —Medicaid—and we receive all commercial insurances as well. The bulk of our funding does however come from the state. We also conduct several fundraisers throughout the year. One of our big events is The Walk for Autism. That is held in April. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the last two years the walk was virtual. We are hoping that this April we go live. Last year we raised more than $120,000! Our other fundraiser is called Pedal for Autism. Last year was our first year and we raised more than $60,000. We had about 25 riders last year. This year we are anticipating doubling that number. That event takes place in Rome, New York, where we are looking to expand our services.

Q: What are the services that the center offers to its clients?
A: First and foremost we offer family navigation services. Those services are about anyone who needs or identifies a child who may have autism can access this service. Individuals can call us and talk about their concerns they have for their child. So this navigation system we have helps parents to guide them through the process of getting help and that information we give out is all free. We also have our clinical services which include all our therapies, our evaluations, parent supports and all social work services. We offer educational services which is our preschool services where we offer behavioral therapists and aides in the class room to assist the teacher. We offer school consultations services to Oneida, Herkimer and Madison county school systems where we can provide behavioral supports if needed. There are other services we offer as well and more information can be obtained by visiting our website.

Q: Do you offer any residential services?
A: Yes, we do have a residential program. We have four homes for those clients who have extreme behavioral issues and we provide 24/7 care. Here at our new facility on Sunset Avenue in Utica, we have 60 apartments. Out of the 60, 12 are for clients with autism, the remaining 48 are for anyone regardless if they have a disability or not as long as they meet certain income requirements. Again, more information can be obtained regarding these services as well as all our services by visiting our website.

Q: Is the need for your services more now than say two or three years ago?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s more or less. Though I would say it’s pretty much status quo. The big problem I see is not that there isn’t a need but rather many people do not know we exist and that we offer all these services. We presently serve more than 1,000 clients per year. With more awareness of who we are and what we do I firmly believe that number would double.

For more information visit: kelbermancenter.org or call the administrative office at 315-797-6241.

Tara Costello