The new Golisano Autism Center Rochester will coordinate autism services under one roof.
In the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, more than 10,000 people are estimated to be living with autism — the fastest-growing developmental disability in the nation.
One in 68 children — 1 in 42 boys and and 1 in 189 girls — are identified as having autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lifelong condition affects communication, interaction, behaviors and learning in different ways. The number of children diagnosed with ASD continues to rise each year.
The situation can be overwhelming.
On Thursday, Mary Walsh Boatfield, who is on a team at the forefront of tackling autism in the region, showed a rendering of a 25,000-square-foot, $5 million building. The new Golisano Autism Center Rochester, which will be built on South Avenue near Science Parkway in Rochester, will bring together a wide array of coordinated services and expertise under one roof.
The center will not replace the brick-and-mortar sites such as Happiness House in Geneva and Canandaigua that offer autism programs. But the center aims to make it easier for families to get all the care and expertise they need in one place.
“There is a huge need and the need is immediate,” said Boatfield, president and CEO of CP Rochester. CP Rochester is one of the partnering organizations building the new center named for Tom Golisano, philanthropist and Paychex and Golisano Foundation chairman. Golisano announced he is making a matching challenge grant of $2.5 million to help build the center. Golisano pledged the first $500,000 to launch a capital campaign.
Boatfield said the center will be a first of its kind and serve as a model because coordinated autism services and expertise are needed everywhere.
In Rochester and the Finger Lakes many gains have been made in recent years with autism programs and services, Boatfield said. “But efforts were fragmented,” she added.
The Golisano Autism Center Rochester will coordinate resources of multiple professionals who have specialized areas of expertise. The collaboration will bring together complementary, autism-specific programs. Placing the center near related medical services in Rochester is also expected to make it easier for the thousands of families seeking services.
“I am pleased to provide a challenge grant of $2.5 million to help build this unique collaborative center, which will bring together a wide array of coordinated services and expertise under one roof,” Golisano said in a prepared statement. “The center will represent a significant improvement in how people with autism and their families can get the services they need over the course of their lifetimes. I hope that my gift will inspire others to join me and contribute in a meaningful way to this important endeavor.”
The first major gift toward the anticipated two-year challenge comes from the Golisano Foundation for $500,000, making the total commitment to date $3 million.
The Golisano Autism Center Rochester will include shared program spaces, a sensory gym, classrooms, therapy rooms and more. Groundbreaking is expected this fall and opening is targeted for fall 2018.
Collaborating to build the new center are like-minded groups: Al Sigl Community of Agencies, AutismUp and CP Rochester.
A few years ago CP Rochester joined forces with Happiness House under a parent corporation. CP Rochester serves people with developmental disabilities in the Monroe County region. Happiness House, in Geneva and Canandaigua, offers programs and services for those with disabilities, and their families, in Ontario, Wayne, Yates and Seneca counties.
Boatfield and project partners said they appreciate the support from Golisano and his foundation — for their “believing in our vision” to enhancing and expanding autism services in our community.
Thomas O’Connor, who is president of Al Sigl Community of Agencies, said in a prepared statement that this innovative model for delivering autism-based services will be unlike anything else in the region."
“We anticipate that this model will be looked at on a national level and will eventually be the the go-to model for how a community prepares individuals with ASD for a successful and fulfilling life,” O'Connor said.
The center will provide services that span a lifetime. A full array of coordinated program options for infants, toddlers, youths, teens and adults will include behavioral and primary care support, respite, community habilitation, social, recreational and therapeutic services, and help with housing and employment. The center will also provide high-quality, evidence-based school-age instruction developed specifically for individuals with autism provided by Mary Cariola Children’s Center.
Al Sigl Community of Agencies, AutismUp and CP Rochester will coordinate the addition of other affiliate agencies to be housed at the center.
“The opportunity to coordinate and customize autism-specific services, and prepare for the next stage of life together under one roof, will be a dream come true for families,” said Sarah Milko, AutismUp executive director. “As a parent of a child with autism, I know how exhausting and confusing it can be to go from place to place for services.”