"He who saves a single life, it is as though he has saved the entire world."- Talmud
Presidents MessageIn 1998, a new employee sat in my office at the Morstan General Agency, absorbing the many plaques of appreciation and recognition of charitable and community contributions that lined Al's private office. The employee told her story of wishing to start The Ascent School. Hers was one of the eight families whose common impetus, not finding appropriate education for their children diagnosed with autism, transformed into motivation to create their own school. She conveyed her struggle with her own son’s autism and how she and the other families had gone to such great lengths-- some mortgaging their homes, selling engagement rings, and begging to gather the seed money needed to take on the task. They hired lobbyists, lawyers, teachers, and an executive director. This parent had even cleared part of her home to form, what to them, was the only hope for their children. Still, the families met with failure at the State Education Department. Ascent was deemed as an emotional, parent driven dream, and the State Education Department sited their moratorium, halting new or the expansion of existing BOCES programs. I knew little of the State Education Department and even less on the subject of autism, but after meeting 5 year old, Max, I agreed to help lobby and put together a board. Ascent’s board members are not just figureheads and names on loan to this cause, but true participants devoted to making a difference with no thought of ego or personal gain. The new board immediately relieved the expensive hired hands with their warm hearts and replaced the emotional parents with rational business minds supporting Ascent’s clinical excellence and right to exist. The board and families shared a success that provided Ascent State Education funding through an association developed with the AHRC (Association for the Help of Retarded Children). In 1999, the Ascent School had finally moved out of the parent’s home and into a (former parochial) school facility on Glen Head, Long Island.Almost three years had gone by, and Ascent continued to thrive and grow, but in March 2002, board Vice President Richard Feldman of the law offices of Rivkin Radler arrived at Ascent to renegotiate the three year lease nearing end. He was informed that Ascent would have to vacate by August 2002. The grim circumstance, lead to months of searching in desperation for an affordable lease space. Through network and reputation, the Executive Director of United Way, Teresa Regnante, called me about space for lease at United Way’s (Center for Hope) new headquarters in Deer Park. Our board’s negotiations allowed for Ascent to afford a generous lease… however, the biggest hurdle had yet to be leapt. The conversion cost of the 11,000 sq ft warehouse-like space into a school, was estimated at over $975,000. While Ascent is partly state funded, 50% of our annual budget ($1,000,000) is raised privately. The reason for the deficit is predominately due to our 1:1/child: teacher ratio. The original founding parents, new parents, board and volunteers continue to meet additional funding requirements through various events and tireless efforts. Already working at an exhaustive pace, successfully meeting their annual challenge without complaint, Ascent’s team knew the efforts would have to expand. We made our way to Trades Council meetings, and other union events, speaking from our hearts to the community workers and pleading for volunteerism. Union workers showed up each weekend from May until building completion in September of 2002. Other volunteers forged rallies of building material donations, and new fundraisers. When stumped by corporate red tape, they arrived in local stores, pleading with local managers. Suppliers like Ikea, Armstrong, Jim Mar Marble and Granite, Bayside Plumbing, PC Richard, American Olean, Mills Pride, Rose Fence and Home Depot made tremendous building material contributions. Well informed politicians from all parties also joined to help Ascent expedite permits. The culmination of Ascent’s rally made a tremendous spirited impact on our school and community, serving as a platform for all to increase their voluntary capacity and experience their individual power to make a difference. The new State of the Art Ascent School opened its doors on September 9, 2002. When our new facility doors opened The New York State Education Department recognized the record of remarkable achievement and made an exception to its 5 year moratorium on new BOCES programming granting Ascent its independent license. Ascent’s Board professionalism, parent determination, and program’s clinical excellence comprises what the New York State Education Department now hails as a preeminent Program and a model in autism education. The Ascent School for Children with Autism is a not-for-profit (501c3), full-day, 12 month and center-based education program for pre-school and school age children with autism. At Ascent, children are empowered to battle autism using the intensive intervention and the only research validated approach to the treatment of autism, known as Applied Behavioral Analysis. Ascent is chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, but Ascent’s Educational Program is far reaching and provides broad curriculum writing and teaching tools for educators of the future. Ascent (independently evaluated and named as a model program) plays an integral role in writing curriculum for New York State’s only Masters in Autism Education program—(one of four in the nation). Ascent provides direct support to children and families living with autism while investing in the professional development of our educational system. Ascent's program is currently being applied in; teaching university level courses for educators of our future; providing internships for graduate level students; creating model classrooms; training school district personnel; and writing textbooks and curriculum for the New York State Education Department. Ascent also helps to lead mentor programs to promote social consciousness in all youth. For a child with autism, each moment they are not taught, is a moment of opportunity for autism’s hold to tighten. The Centers for Disease Control report that Autism affects 1 in 150 births. Most children with autism are placed in institutions or group homes before reaching the age of 13. Ascent’s program is about long term benefits through small steps. For many of Ascent’s children these steps include learning to eat more than one type of food, and gaining bathroom independence. It means learning to prepare a meal, or even recognizing their Mother and learning how to speak… if only to say “Mom” or “Help”. From academic skills to the most basic of life skills that protect from the possibility of neglect, Ascent helps children with autism to communicate hunger, pain and love, to learn job skills and to lead the most independent lives possible, keeping them out of institutions. Three quarters of the Americans who have autism spectrum disorders spend their lives in institutions or group homes at a direct cost of tens of billions of dollars per year. With help from a dedicated professional public relations and marketing team, Ascent and our supporters have been recognized by The New York Times, 1010 Wins Radio, WABC Long Island Viewpoints, WB11 Unsung Heroes, The New York Post, and several local news providers. Ascent has also gained the support of The Lowe Foundation, Chase Bank, Citibank, The Bond Buyer, United National, U.S. Liability, CNA Insurance Foundation and most recently The Torch Foundation, the i.t.a. Foundation and the Garth Brooks /Teammates for Kids Foundation.
Autism is the 3rd most common developmental disorder. It's more prevalent than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis or childhood cancer, yet receives less than 5% of the funding. While much has been accomplished, these achievements only grant Ascent the right to continue the battle. It is my hope that the strides that Ascent, our children, parents, program, volunteers, and board continue to make, will inspire your support.Al EskanazyChairman, Board of Trustees, School President