Developmental disabilities community comes together at family support fair

Approximately 1,500 attendees crowded  into the Student Union building at Brooklyn College for the annual Brooklyn Family Support Fair hosted by the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Council.

Over 100 tables on two floors were manned by representatives of various not-for-profits that provide services to the developmentally disabled and their families, as well as of government agencies that offer resources to those in need.

In addition, there were 10 workshops on various issues that provided event-goers with substantive information to help them select the best services for their family members, plus an awards ceremony at which the annual Karuna Heisler Award was presented to Duncan Whiteside of the Maidstone Foundation for Lifetime Service, to Lucina Clarke of My Time Inc., for Going the Extra  Mile, and Elizabeth Sunshine of the New York State Institute of Disabilities for Innovation.

Joanne, whose autistic son attends the AHRC middle high school that’s housed in the old Regina Pacis school building, said she was at the fair “to find services. There’s so much information here.”

“I’m hoping to find help for my son,” explained Suzanne, who was talking to the people at the HeartShare table. “He’s almost 18, and I’d like him to be more active and outgoing, and have friends. I want some things to get him into the community, interacting with people his own age. I don’t want him just to sit at the window and wait for me to come home. I want him to be happy.”

Service providers were enthusiastic about the opportunities the fair offers. “We provide valuable information to the community,” explained Ilka Santana, of United Cerebral Palsy. “The fair is very important to families. They don’t know a lot of the services that are available to them.”

Christopher Greif, the vice chairperson of BDDC, was on hand to help family members as they processed all the information that was available. A key, he stressed, is taking the process methodically.

“We don’t do express,” Greif stressed. “We do everything step by step because when you go too fast, you might make a mistake.”

This is the 24th year that the organization has hosted the event, said Joseph Baird, the chair of BDDC’s Family Support Committee, which organizes the fair.

“This is the one time every year we get everyone together,” remarked Baird. “We try to create a venue where families can come and talk to just about everybody who has services,” representing, he added, “the full depth and breadth of the services available in the borough.”

And, he stressed, compared to in the past, there is a huge array of services that families can choose from. “Thirty years ago, there was nothing. The care for people with developmental disabilities was very sub-standard,” Baird recalled. “We’ve grown this beautiful system.”

The new challenge, as managed care comes to the fore, Baird added, is “to try to make it sustainable for the future. We want to make it so we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

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