Champions of Long Island’s Special Needs Community

Champions of Long Island's Special Needs Community

Champions of Long Island’s Special Needs Community

Countless members of the Long Island community are committed to making our area more inclusive, kind, and fun for children and adults of all abilities. From heads of schools to directors of programs, this selection highlights just some of the great people making Long Island a better place for people with disabilities.

Editor’s note: At New York Family, we understand that every parent feels differently about the terminology when referring to children with disabilities/special needs. We acknowledge that it’s a personal journey for everyone.


John Baldi Head of School, Vincent Smith School

John Baldi
Head of School, Vincent Smith School

John Baldi has more than 25 years of education and business management experience. Before Vincent Smith School, he was director of finance at the Kew-Forest School and business manager at Columbia University School of Engineering. Mr. Baldi earned his M.S. in education from St. John’s University and B.A. from Queens College. He is a published playwright and the recipient of numerous awards for his off-Broadway productions.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Every year at our high school graduation, I look at the students and see success stories in each of them. The majority of them started with us as either non-readers or reading or speech delayed, along with other language-based disorders. But at graduation, I see students who read and comprehend at or above grade level. I know they will continue on to college or jobs with the skills they need to progress and succeed.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
I’d say to remember that a diagnosis is just a descriptor, not a final determination of a child’s potential. With the right tools, support, and resources, there is always help. Tune out the naysayers and negativity and focus on your love for your child and have faith that if you keep asking questions and ask for help, it is out there. It’s not easy and yes, it’s frustrating and challenging, but you are not alone.


Leonard Caltabiano
CEO, Family of Kidz

Dr. Caltabiano is the CEO at Family of Kidz and is a NYS Licensed Psychologist as well as a NYS Certified School Psychologist. Dr. Caltabiano dedicated most of his career to the diagnosis and proper support of individuals with autism and significant interfering behavior. He received his doctorate degree in psychology from St. John’s University.  As CEO, Dr. Caltabiano leads a team of professionals in providing therapeutic and educational services to children of all ages.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
As a community, one of the most pivotal moments was when Long Island school districts shifted their efforts to provide increased support to students with more severe challenges within the public schools as opposed to out-of-district placements. This represented a strong step towards better acceptance and community integration for these students. In moving forward as a community, it is very important that these students continue to receive effective support.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Parents are not in this alone, especially here on Long Island, where our schools and community have dedicated many resources to children with disabilities. It is important for parents to establish an understanding of their child’s disability, accept that which cannot be changed, but always be involved with your child’s treatment and learning. Most importantly, have fun and play with your child. Understand what motivates your child and harness the power of that motivation.

What drives your passion for this community?
My passion is driven by the individuals we service and the professionals that deliver these services. Every time an individual makes a step towards a better quality of life, this is a major accomplishment. Whether improvement in communication skills, physical ability, mental-behavioral health, or academic skills, the goal is to improve the quality of life for the disabled and their families. The professionals that make that improvement happen are real-life superheroes and deserve our support!


Champions of Long Island's Special Needs Community

Andrew Cohen
Principal, The Law Office of Andrew M. Cohen

Andrew provides comprehensive estate planning for his clients with an emphasis on assisting families who have a loved one with special needs. Andrew holds a Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School and an LLM in taxation from the University of Miami, School of Law.  Andrew has extensive experience in petitioning for guardianship so that family members are vested with the appropriate authority to ensure that their loved ones are protected.   

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
My daughter is my inspiration for all that I do in the field of Special Needs Law. Watching her struggles and trying to ensure that she has every opportunity to thrive motivate me on a daily basis. I take that inspiration and use it to assist other families. 

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Knowledge is power. Learn all you can and surround yourself with support. Seek out experts in the various fields to advise you and assist you. Once you become informed and put a plan in place you can move on to the next challenge. My other piece of advice is to enjoy each part of the journey and remember to celebrate each step along the way!  

What drives your passion for this community?
My passion for this community originated with my daughter but it continues because of the strength and compassion that I get to see each day from families and their loved ones.


Colleen Crispino
President and CEO, United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island

Colleen is an experienced and goal oriented executive with a demonstrated track record of leadership skills including board development, strategic planning, corporate communications, team building and staff development. She has more than 30 years in the industry, providing expertise in management of supports and services to children and adults including vocational, residential, recreation and educational programs.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
A pivotal moment in my career was the opportunity to oversee the job development and job coaching functions to ensure they provided the highest quality of services. We were able to achieve a 150% rise in employment placement for people with disabilities.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Receiving a diagnosis can be overwhelming for parents of special needs children. There are many programs and supports available to the parents of special needs children. Please reach out for support to navigate the available resources for your family.

What drives your passion for this community?
What drives my passion for this community is seeing the everyday miracles that can happen when people with differing abilities are given an opportunity to live life to the fullest. Here at UCP-LI we see these little miracles every day.


Mark X.Cronin
Co-Founder, John’s Crazy Socks

Mark X. Cronin co-founded John’s Crazy Socks with his son, John, as a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. The pair bootstrapped the business into the world’s largest sock store and were named EY’s Entrepreneurs of the Year. More than half their colleagues have differing abilities. Mark is an entrepreneur, public speaker and advocate for people with differing abilities. Mark has testified twice before Congress and the United Nations and recorded two TEDx Talks. 

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
There is no greater joy than the busy season at John’s Crazy Socks when our operations are full and see all these people working hard, contributing and finding meaning and purpose. It is a joyous moment.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
We only learned that our son had Down syndrome after he was born. His medical challenges consumed us at first, but we learned to become advocates for our son. We benefited from other parents reaching out to us so we knew we were not alone. John is the youngest of three boys and we learned to push him towards independence just as we did his brothers. We learned to raise the bar, not lower it.

What drives your passion for this community?
John has made me a better parent and a better person. I am driven to show my gratitude by working for inclusion for all in our business and our advocacy work. We all lose when we exclude people and are all better off when all are included. Never focus on a person’s limitations, be awed by their possibilities.


Jon Feingold
Executive Director, The Hagedorn Little Village School

Dr. Feingold earned his B.A. from SUNY Albany, and M.A. and Ph.D. from Hofstra University; is a certified school psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist. He began working with HLVS in 1995 and has served as executive director since 2009. Dr. Feingold maintains a part-time clinical practice, serves on the boards of several programs, and has presented at conferences throughout the world. He enjoys the support of his wife Iris and daughter Sammy.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
The pivotal moments for me are too numerous to narrow down. However, I would say that seeing our students at their graduation ceremonies, and recognizing the incredible growth and strides that they have taken during the time at HLVS would certainly be pivotal for me.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
I would advise parents to seek help and support as early as possible. It can be overwhelming to learn that your child’s development is not progressing as hoped. Navigating the special education and therapeutic landscape can be challenging. Accessing guidance is critical. At HLVS, we also provide parent support groups as we recognize the importance of supporting all members of a child’s family in order to collaboratively help our students.

What drives your passion for this community?
It is seeing our staff and families come together to help our students progress. I am continually amazed by the compassion, skill, and dedication I see throughout the year. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear our staff cheering for an accomplishment, a first word, a first step, or some other milestone that a student has mastered. That is all the motivation that I need to drive my passion for this community.


Michael Furino
Executive Director, Be The Best Sport

Michael Furino, executive director, is a Port Washington native and lover of sports and helping children. Michael is a real-estate agent full-time, but he saw a need to develop a sports program for children with special needs when he recognized the need in the community. Michael has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years to keep the program running and expand the program each year.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Watching the smiles on the faces of the parents and children when they participate in the program. The kids meet new kids and the parents meet new parents. Growing up, I was able to participate in sports without boundaries and you take that for granted. Developing this program made me realize how underserved this community was and what a great value I could help provide with my network and background in business.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Get your child involved in sports as soon as possible. Participation in sports has so many benefits besides physical fitness; it helps break down social boundaries, allows kids to interact without having to use words, increases confidence, helps with following direction, teaches teamwork and the skills acquired on the field will naturally transfer over to the real world. Sports are the means to acquire those social skills the children need in all aspects of life.

What drives your passion for this community?
Growing up, my parents taught me to give back and participate in community events. As I grew older, I realized how blessed I was to have the opportunity to play sports, meet some great friends and create unforgettable memories in my life. When I had the chance to provide that same opportunity for children with disabilities, it was something I had to run with and I made it a goal to make it a reality.


Kevin Gersh
CEO, Gersh Autism

Kevin Gersh is the founder, CEO and chief autism officer of Gersh Autism. He was raised at a time when ADHD, dyslexia and learning disabilities were not diagnosed. Children were labeled lazy or troublemakers and Kevin was one of them. This set him on a lifelong path to help children. 30 years ago, Kevin opened his first school, a customized environment for autistic children. Today, he operates numerous schools and programs across the US and Puerto Rico.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
A diagnosis may feel like a punch in the gut at first, but it is the stepping stone allowing you to forge a path for your child’s success and establish the environment in which they will thrive. A diagnosis opens the door to support and services such as ABA therapy, OT, speech therapy and more. You will always be your child’s most fierce advocate. Use the information to find the place and support your kid deserves.

What drives your passion for this community?
The gift of being able to speak autism and relate to autistic children due to my own experience growing up with my own special needs. I am grateful for the opportunity to have an impact on children on the spectrum and their families. It is the greatest reward and an unparalleled drive to wake up everyday knowing that I can make a difference in the life of a family and a child’s future.


Lynne Koufakis
Board Chair, Life’s WORC

Lynne Koufakis, Life’s WORC board chair, is a devoted mother of four children, two affected by Autism. Her dedication to advocacy has brought significant positive changes, fostering growth and future collaborations for the organization. With a firm belief in the potential of expanding programs, Lynne’s goal is to make Life’s WORC the best possible support system for the people they serve. Her relentless efforts continue to impact lives and inspire others to do the same.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
During the peak of the pandemic, Life’s WORC homes were placed under lockdown as a vital safety precaution. In recognition of the unwavering dedication of the direct support professionals during these challenging and uncertain times, a heartfelt expression of gratitude was extended to them. Their selfless commitment to providing care and support in the face of adversity has been a beacon of hope for the organization and the individuals they serve.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
I encourage those facing challenges to proactively seek support. Whether it’s reaching out to their school district or organizations like Life’s WORC, it is important to seek assistance and form bonds with others who can provide valuable guidance and aid. I hope this advice serves as a beacon of hope for individuals and families, fostering a sense of empowerment in navigating the journey of special needs care.

What drives your passion for this community?
I have a strong desire to make a difference which stems from my personal experience as a parent of children with special needs. Being involved comes naturally when you have such a personal connection. By sharing my insights as a parent, I provide the board with a unique and crucial perspective that enriches the organization’s approach and decision-making process.


Mary McDonald
Associate Executive Director, Eden II Programs

Dr. McDonald is the associate executive director at Eden II Programs.  She has 30+ years of experience and is a professor in special education at Hofstra University. Dr McDonald has a Ph.D. in learning theory and is a BCBA. She is an accomplished author, researcher, and presenter in autism and applied behavior analysis. She has received awards and holds board positions in the field, she is known for her expertise and dedication to the field.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
We were using video modeling to teach a student with autism to greet his teachers. He was having difficulty putting together the greeting with the name.  He was following along with the video saying hello to his teachers when his mom walked in and he turned to her and said “Hi, mom”. His mom started to tear up as this was the first time he ever said “hi” to her and used her name. 

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
My advice is to be an advocate for your child. Be sure to always ask questions and ask for what your child needs. There are many wonderful people out there who will help, but you really do have to ask and advocate and sometimes even fight for what your child needs. Do not give up and always work toward the next step for your child, but take it one day at a time.

What drives your passion for this community?
I’ve dedicated my life to individuals with autism and their families. I have loved hearing a child’s first word or seeing them volunteer in the community. If I could go back and rethink my career choices, I would choose this path and I believe I am the one who is richer for it because I make a difference every day in the lives of people with autism and their families and that is PRICELESS.


Jothy Narendran
President, Spectrum Designs
Co-Managing Partner and Chair, Jaspan Schlesinger Narendran LLP

Jothy Narendran is president of Spectrum Designs, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. Jothy was awarded ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ at the Herald’s Top Lawyers of Long Island awards gala. Jothy is co-managing partner and chair of Jaspan Schlesinger Narendran LLP’s banking and financial services practice group. She represents institutional and private lenders in a variety of commercial real estate financing transactions.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
From my experience with friends and colleagues that have a child with a disability  it is best to embrace the diagnosis and be your child’s fiercest advocate. There is always ability within the disability.


Keith Oncale
Head of School, Winston Preparatory School Long Island

Keith Oncale joined the Winston Prep Faculty in 1999. He served as dean of students and academics at WPS Manhattan campus and the Connecticut campus, before being named head of school at the Long Island campus when it opened in the fall of 2018. Keith has worked with children who learn differently for over thirty years. He holds a B.A. from the University of North Texas and a master’s degree in liberal arts/humanities from Southern Methodist University.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Winston Preparatory School has a long-standing tradition of not having a valedictorian. Any student who is willing and able to speak about their journey is encouraged to do so. These moments prove to be some of the most inspiring memories of the year. To hear our students who have struggled before coming to Winston Prep present themselves with such grace and self-awareness is as moving 23 years later as it was in the spring of 1999.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
One size does not fit all. Everyone has their individual strengths and areas where we require support. Do your research. How does your child best process information? What is a fair and honest diagnostic assessment of strengths and weaknesses? Find the program that best fits the learning style of your particular student.

What drives your passion for this community?
So many of my students have been told they were not going to succeed. That is untrue. They can and will succeed, but they need a program that fits their unique learning style. That program needs to be based in diagnostic and scientific research. Seeing my students not only succeed, but excel is what drives my passion for this community.


David Parnes
Founder, Yellow Bus ABA

David Parnes, founder of Yellow Bus ABA, is a dedicated advocate for children with autism. A native of New York, he discovered his passion for making a difference while volunteering with disabled children in high school. Today, Yellow Bus ABA provides clinic and home-based ABA therapy in New York. David, a fitness enthusiast with a love for history and skiing, combines his diverse interests with his commitment to improving the lives of children with autism.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
A pivotal moment within the disabled community occurred when a mother contacted Yellow Bus ABA, sharing her wish to have known about the clinics during her child’s early intervention. This heartfelt conversation became a defining moment for me, compelling me to educate families with newly diagnosed children about the exceptional programs available. With a renewed mission, I am dedicated to helping families quickly access services and ensuring they receive the vital support they need.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
I advise parents of a newly diagnosed child with autism to educate themselves about available programs, enabling informed decisions for their child’s care. One important aspect is showing empathy towards the child, understanding their unique needs and challenges. Recognizing the potential stress on the family, I encourage parents to prioritize their wellbeing and mental health. By seeking support and practicing self-care, parents can effectively navigate the journey and provide the best support for their child.

What drives your passion for this community?
My passion for the community is deeply rooted in my upbringing and strong background in community-oriented endeavors. Having been brought up with a sense of responsibility towards others, I am driven to make a positive impact on the community, recognizing that helping the most vulnerable members lifts the entire community. I believe that by focusing on the well-being of the most vulnerable, the community as a whole can thrive, fostering a stronger and more inclusive environment.


Stanfort Perry
CEO, Brookville Center for Children’s Services

Stanfort J. Perry, CEO, leads AHRC Nassau, Brookville Center for Children’s Services and Citizens Options Unlimited, Inc.— the largest service provider network to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities on Long Island and the second largest in New York State. With an unwavering commitment spanning over 30 years, Perry also serves as president of the New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. (NYSID) and chair of the board of managers of Care Design NY.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
One pivotal moment was when an older child with autism spoke his first words—that was huge! It showed Brookville Center for Children’s Services’ ability to change lives. This outcome, like many others, was based on the partnership of parents and the clinical/educational team, who specialize in supporting children on the spectrum. I’m honored to manage the agency’s overall operations so Brookville Center’s exceptional team can continue to advance the latest clinical interventions and curricula.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
My advice for a parent whose child was recently diagnosed with a disability is to start the process of early intervention services. The sooner you intervene, the better your child’s outcomes will become for a lifetime. Partner with clinical, medical and educational experts with proven track records—and come prepared with questions. Talk to other parents and join a community of parents and providers dedicated to ensuring the success of children with disabilities.

What drives your passion for this community?
For over 30 years, my passion for work in the disability community has been driven by outcomes—seeing people lead the lives they choose as a result of working closely with family, friends, and the community. Full inclusion is possible. It’s a goal that motivates me, every day, to develop opportunities for increased equality, diversity and inclusion; respond to challenges; spotlight under-recognized issues and biases; and empower others to make a positive impact. 


Suzanne Reek
Executive Director, Autism Society Nassau/Suffolk Chapter

Suzanne Reek has served as executive director of the Nassau Suffolk Chapter of the Autism Society of America for 18 years. Suzanne is a former sergeant in the NYPD and retired after 20 years of service. She is a mother of a 23 year old son with autism and an advocate for the rights of the disabled and issues that affect the special needs community.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Receiving $450,000 in grant funds from Senator Schumer as part of the Appropriations Bill from President Biden to provide New York State-wide training for First Responders on autism, and job skills training. We have trained more than 2,000 individuals and have truly made a difference.   

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Learn to adjust your dreams and goals for your child.  Help them be the best that they can be. Things may look a bit different from what you had envisioned. My goal is for my son to be safe and happy. Surround yourself with positive people who want to make a difference. Hold up your friends when they are struggling. You may at some point need their support, don’t be afraid to seek their help.

What drives your passion for this community?
My son is my true inspiration and guiding force behind my passion to improve the quality of life for families in the Long Island Autism Community. I have been doing this for over 18 years. When I see the impact we have made on families, it makes the sacrifices made to my family worthwhile. My passion is for social inclusion with equal treatment. 


Justin Resnick
Managing Director, Evercore Inc

Justin is a managing director in Evercore’s Private Capital Advisory group. He has more than a decade of experience representing market-leading sponsors on multi and single-asset continuation funds, GP stake sales, mergers and acquisitions, and other capital raising transactions. In his free time, he serves on the board of directors of Life’s WORC and enjoys playing golf and basketball. He lives in Roslyn with his wife, Alyssa, and two sons, Chase and Brody.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
In 2007, I visited The Ascent School for Autism, a private, non-profit school for children with autism located in Deer Park. As a young teenager, I was introduced to the incredible work BCBAs and other special education teachers do each and every day, teaching everything from basic life skills to academics. The amount of patience, love, and positivity was truly incredible. It comes as no surprise that I ended up marrying a BCBA!

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
You are not alone! There is a large, warm, and loving community of parents and other family members that is incredibly generous and willing to help you. The system is flawed and you will need to fight every step of the way for your child, but there is an army out there that has been in your shoes and can offer invaluable insight. Also, early intervention is absolutely critical, so don’t wait to get help!

What drives your passion for this community?
My parents had humble beginnings, but created an amazing life for me and my sister growing up. We were always taught to be grateful and to give back because “if those who can don’t, who will?” When I was initially exposed to the world of autism through my mother’s EI agency, Up Wee Grow, I couldn’t believe how something so prevalent could receive such little funding and resources, so I decided I had to help!


Lauren Resnick
Co-Director and Speech Language Pathologist, Up Wee Grow, Inc.

Lauren Resnick has practiced as a speech language pathologist for over 35 years. Lauren is presently the co-director of Up Wee Grow. The agency provides evaluations and therapies for children, birth through five, in all counties of New York State. Lauren is also the co-author of the book Maximum Strength Parenting to Raise Maximum Strength Children and more recently, launched BehavAble, a mental health platform to further support children and families struggling with mental health issues.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Working with children with disabilities is not only rewarding but a true privilege. Watching the growth and progression each child achieves is truly a gift. The pivotal moment however is most evident when one sees the joy on a child or parents face as they learn a new skill. Each and every day is a new lesson learned, not only for the child but for those that work with them.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
If you met one child with a disability, then you met one child with a disability. Every child is different, regardless of if they have a disability, or what their disability is. Focus on the strengths and abilities of a child, rather than their disability. Stop looking for an explanation, rather look into your child’s eyes, love them, accept them and provide them with a loving environment to engage in.

What drives your passion for this community?
Everyone has to cope with life’s stressors and challenges. Then, imagine the additional obstacles that have to be overcome for families and children with disabilities. The emotional impact, sacrifices, financial burden and the toll it takes on ones physical and mental health. My life’s journey has always been to make a difference in the lives of others because if those who can don’t, then who will?


Janine Stiene
Owner and CEO, Long Island Speech

Janine Stiene (MA, CCC-SLP, TSHH), is a licensed speech-language pathologist, teacher of the speech and hearing handicap and trained myofunctional therapist with over 24 years of experience. Stiene is the owner and CEO of Long Island Speech, a private speech pathology practice with nine locations across Long Island, and the founder and CEO of Spot Pal, a tongue training appliance designed to teach proper lingual resting posture and support the elimination of a tongue thrust.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
During the past few years, I have noticed that practitioners have become more knowledgeable and have a stronger desire to understand the importance of early intervention. Parents have also been more involved! Not only by doing their own research but also finding different procedures and therapy approaches on their own. They’re not just taking the recommendation of their doctor and dentist or school teacher, parents are going a step further and are very much involved.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Always trust your gut! So many times when you are seeing a specialist, their knowledge base, although diverse, is very limited in what they know about everything. So, if you’re seeing something in your child or suspect that something else is going on, do your research, ask questions, and always require or seek out multiple opinions. You should see at least two specialists that have given you a similar diagnosis and treatment options.

What drives your passion for this community?
I am passionate about supporting families so that these individuals get everything that they need in order to help them succeed. Individuals with disabilities should always be offered the same experiences, even if that means some modifications. Ex: Seeing Santa Claus at the mall may be too stimulating and overwhelming, which is why we do it in our offices where children with disabilities can feel safe, in a well-controlled environment, and get the same experience.


Debora Thivierge
Founder and CEO, ELIJA

Debora has advocated for people with autism for 25 years. As the founder and CEO of ELIJA (Empowering LI’s Journey through Autism), she served on the Behavior Analyst Certification Board®, the NYS Licensure Board for ABA and was appointed by the NYS Governor to serve on the DD Planning Council. Debora is an autism advisor to the Suffolk County Executive on housing/quality of life initiatives and serves on the Suffolk County Workforce Development Board – Disability Committee. 

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
Every moment I see a learner master a new skill that most take for granted, i.e. learning to shower, brush one’s teeth, toileting, these are always pivotal moments for me, because I understand the effort it takes to accomplish these tasks. These successes are truly a partnership between the learner, family and educator. Knowing this, at ELIJA we create a personalized and detailed “action plan” for each learner, at every stage of their development! 

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
It’s devastating to hear that your child has autism. I remember that day clearly and empathize so much with other families. My advice is to fight for your child’s needs, despite your feelings of devastation, fear and hopelessness. It’s ok to feel this but keep moving forward.  Get educated through reputable organizations and obtain services for your child as soon as possible. The earlier you treat the symptoms the more independent they will be as adults. 

What drives your passion for this community?
In 2000, when my two year old son was diagnosed with Autism, I was determined that he receive the best services, providing him the opportunity to live his best life, like every other child. So, I founded ELIJA, to do just that: Empower Long Island’s Journey through Autism, and to educate and support other families of children with autism, like mine. We work to provide effective programming, while constantly improving autism education and treatment methods!


Ellenmorris Tiegerman
Founder and CEO, Tiegerman Schools and Tiegerman Community Services

Ellenmorris Tiegerman, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Tiegerman School (1985) and Tiegerman Community Services (2010). She has advanced degrees in speech language pathology, special education and social work. Ellenmorris has lectured extensively on topics related to children with disabilities and their families, and educational politics. She has been involved in many research projects and is the author of several textbooks in the areas of language disorders, early intervention, parent language training and autism spectrum disorders.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
We had a little boy with autism in our Pre-K program. At one point, he was pulled out and couldn’t return until another child left the program. There was a program cap and NY State was denying children special education services based on numbers. I sued the NYS Department of Education. The case was settled and it was a win for the families! We now provide services to 700 families on LI and in NYC.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
It is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to be a long road. But there is great success and, as such, there should be great hope. Your family is going to learn a lot from your child,  your child will teach you a lot.

What drives your passion for this community?
When I see former students, when they contact me and come back to visit, I see how well they’ve done and how they’ve transformed. They’ve graduated high school, found a job, gotten married, and started families of their own. It makes it all worth it!


Patrick Winters
Board President, Winters Center for Autism

Patrick Winters is a third generation Winters. He joined the family business in 2016 after graduating from Fairfield University. Patrick assumed the responsibilities as vice president of marketing and sales in 2018 and has also been involved in a number of merger and acquisition activities, including pipeline development, negotiations and deal closings. Patrick serves as the president of the board for Winters Center for Autism, a not-for-profit organization helping people with career training and placement.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
I think the first day we opened the doors to our Center for Autism was the most pivotal for me. To see our vision and my father’s dream come to fruition and knowing we were about to embark on further helping the autism community was a very fulfilling feeling. Giving parents a sense of hope and relief was a feeling I will never forget.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Just because a child has a disability does not mean they have no abilities. There is good and talent in everyone and it’s on every parent, disabilities or not, to help their children realize what’s in them. That’s why we are parents. I would also say to remember you aren’t alone and there are many resources and communities that are here to help and guide you along the way. There is always hope.

What drives your passion for this community?
Growing up with a brother with autism and watching my parents have a child with autism, it is a part of my life and always will be. We have been very fortunate and it is more important that we give back to those who need it most.


Angelo Zegarelli
Head of School, Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center

Angelo is an educator and administrator with over 21 years of experience. In his role as head of school, he leads a program for children with severe physical disabilities. Angelo is responsible for providing educational leadership, supervising faculty, advocating for special education students and maintaining relationships with local, state, and federal agencies. He holds New York State certifications as a school district administrator and school building leader, and degrees in educational leadership, physical education and sports management.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to watch the transformation that happens with our students. Seeing them successfully move from elementary school to middle school to high school, and grow and mature into bright confident adults, is truly amazing. It culminates with a commencement where we award Regents, Advanced Regents and local diplomas as they go on to college, employment or programs where they’ll continue developing independent living and work-readiness skills.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?
Parents should arrange early intervention services as soon as possible. They have a tremendous impact on academic achievement, behavior, communication skills and self-esteem. Families benefit by being able to better meet their child’s needs early on. Joining parent support groups is vital and can improve parenting skills, foster a sense of empowerment and a feeling of belonging and provide resources. Lastly, don’t underestimate what your child can accomplish with the right support, encouragement and environment.

What drives your passion for this community?
I do everything within my power for our students, and all students with disabilities, to have the same opportunities as any other child. This is the basis for every decision made. We encourage students to learn and grow at their own rate. We’re experts at taking an individual and looking at all their academic, technology, and social-emotional needs and ensuring the types of services, and how they’re delivered, levels the playing field for optimal learning. 


In Memoriam:

Robert Dillon
District Superintendent, Nassau BOCES

As district superintendent of Nassau BOCES, Dr. Robert R. Dillon lead the largest educational services agency in NY. Nassau BOCES is a cooperative of 56 school districts in Nassau County, which collectively serve more than 200,000 students. In addition to serving as Nassau BOCES chief executive, he was a regional representative for the NYS Commissioner of Education. Dr. Dillon was a leader in education for 35 years as well as an author and professor.

What is one pivotal moment you have experienced while within the disabled community?
When I realized the importance of virtual meetings to our student population. These meetings enabled our students to be active participants in events that they previously could not attend.  This is illustrated by our annual meeting with legislators. Scheduling virtual meetings allows our most compromised students to share their stories firsthand and convey their passion about topics important to them. Our students have a voice and are active participants in matters that directly impact them.

Do you have any advice for a parent whose child has been recently diagnosed with a disability?

  • You are not alone on this journey. Seek support, be patient with yourself and your child, and celebrate the unique qualities that make your child who they are. 
  •  Embrace their strengths. Focus on nurturing and celebrating your child’s strengths, talents, and interests. Encourage their passions and help them develop skills in areas where they excel. 
  •  A diagnosis does not define your child or their potential. Focus on their abilities and the possibilities that lie ahead.  

What drives your passion for this community?
All students are entitled to a free and appropriate education. “All means all” has come to symbolize my approach to education. We need to ensure that all students, regardless of their abilities, have access to opportunities and the best possible education for them. At Nassau BOCES, we are committed to developing innovative programs and implementing systemic changes that benefit ALL students.

 

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The Tutorverse

<p><span style="font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12pt;"><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">Join The Tutorverse for the highest quality in academic enrichment and test preparation! Whether your student is gearing up for the </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">state exams, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, or SAT/ACT</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">, their team of </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">experienced and local professional educators</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;"> can help. Have your student join a </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">small-group class</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;"> at our downtown or Upper East Side locations. Or, they can meet with a </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">private tutor when and where it’s most convenient for your family</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">. Does your student need help building study skills or improving grades? Whether your middle or high schooler needs help with </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">STEM or humanities</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">, The Tutorverse's patient and affirming tutors will teach them how to build </span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">confidence and content mastery</span><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;">. </span><a style="color: #1155cc; background-color: #ffffff;" href="mailto:[email protected]" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Send an email</a><span style="color: #222222; background-color: #ffffff;"> or give them a call.</span></span></p>