ACDS Inc., which has about 80 people on its payroll in Westchester, may be adding more personnel and additional facilities as demand for its services continues to grow.
Based in Plainview, Long Island, ACDS operates with an annual budget of about $28 million and is a nonprofit dedicated to providing services for children and adults with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities and their families.
The services include: early intervention and preschool special education programs; respite and recreational programs for children, teens and adults; and adult Medicaid service coordination. It began its Westchester operations in 2016 with a preschool in what used to be Our Lady of Fatima School at 963 Scarsdale Road on the Yonkers/Scarsdale border.
ACDS was originally founded in 1966 by parents on Long Island who needed services for their children who had Down syndrome. It has grown substantially over the years and has an educational center on the island and also operates individualized residential alternative group homes there. ACDS estimates that it has the capacity to serve more than 1,000 people across all of its programs.
Michael M. Smith, the executive director of ACDS, told the Business Journal that he and one of his staff members knew a pastor in the Bronx who had been reassigned by Cardinal Dolan after serving for 23 years at St. Theresa Parish in Pelham Bay. The Rev. Robert Grippo was assigned to the Church of the Annunciation in Crestwood and one day called Smith.
“I’m inheriting an empty school building. Do you guys want to come and put one of your schools here?” Smith quoted Grippo as asking. “We drove up there and the site was spectacular,” Smith said. The school building was on 1.8 acres and contained 20,000 square feet according to a real estate listing sheet, which was being used to market the property for a special purpose lease.
Smith said they did a needs analysis and were surprised to find that in Westchester there was a very significant need for their services. “We found out that a lot of the (school) districts in southern Westchester were bussing their kids an hour, an hour and a half, up to Ulster County, to Rockland County. There weren’t a lot of services down in the southern part of the county and the state education department said, ‘We’d love you to open a program.’ ”
Smith said he was in the middle of dealing with some property issues on Long Island and “I didn’t know what I was going to walk into having to deal with the planning board in Yonkers and the building department, but it had been much easier than I ever would have expected and they were very receptive.”
Smith said ACDS put about $750,000 of the organization’s funds into building upgrades. “A lot of electrical work, retrofitting the building for babies, for kids with disabilities. We’ve made an investment here and, obviously, we had to have the cash to do that work and that’s one of the things that our fund-raising supports.”
ACDS is primarily funded by state reimbursements for its services, but needs supplemental funding. Megan Lombardo, a grant writer for the organization, explained, “The reality is that the cost of running the programs widely outstrips the reimbursement, so we are here and available for corporate partnerships.” She said ACDS has held fundraising events such as golf outings and plans a slightly different sort of fundraiser to be held Sept. 21 at Ross Aviation at the Westchester County Airport. The general manager of Ross Aviation, Eric Faulkner, is an active supporter of ACDS and has a daughter who is a student at its Long Island preschool. Smith added, “Eric came forward and said, ‘How about using my hangar. I’ll get a couple of planes out of the way and we’ll do an event.’ We went there and we loved it. He indicated both the corporate and political support he could bring to it.”
Lombardo said the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation, the UJA-Federation and Legoland Discovery Center have been among the organization’s Westchester supporters.
“Legoland Discovery Center in Ridge Hill in Yonkers has sponsored the children for some days when they have exclusive use of the property. The U.S. charitable arm of their holding company, which is Merlin’s Magic Wand Foundation, transformed a dusty unused corner downstairs in the school building for occupational therapy. The room was produced at no cost to ACDS,” Lombardo said. It is stocked with oversized Lego blocks, which are easy for children with disabilities to use.
Smith said that expansion of ACDS operations in Westchester is possible. “The education department initially gave us the go-ahead for four classes and we were off and running and we went from those initial classes to serving 155 children inside of two years. The department has encouraged us to look at additional sites to open, which we are currently exploring.”