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Honoring the Past, Building the Future

December 5, 2018
Rachel Howard
Community Voices
Two older, white women post for a photo at a charity event. They both are wearing formal attire.

I had the honor of being hired as the Executive Director of Resources for Children with Special Needs in 2008. Our founding Executive Director, Karen Schlesinger, was retiring after 25 years. Karen, along with Associate Executive Director Helene Craner, created a vital organization based on the idea that access to the right information at the right time could change the lives of children with disabilities and their families. They were truly ahead of their times.

For many years, the organization produced a popular series of directories of services and programs in all five boroughs. These directories were available in every public library, city agency office, and in offices of pediatricians, health clinics, and schools. In the pre-Google era, Resources for Children with Special Needs Directories were groundbreaking tools to empower parents and professionals with information and access.

In the late 2000s, our challenge was transforming our work from publishing directories to other ways of helping families and professionals access and use information to navigate complex systems on behalf of their children. The directories had become too expensive, too cumbersome, and the field was changing so quickly that the information they contained was quickly outdated. The years between 2010 and 2014 were characterized by experimentation, some false starts, and the gradual transition from publishing information and referral to new ways to communicate, connect, and support families.

Directories were replaced with an evolving array of digital outreach, education, and informational resources. We launched the Navigator and Access emails, a website, and social media accounts. We created our first videos and made our tip sheets and resource sheets available for download. We honored the legacy of our founders while growing our reach and role.

While information and resources are a critical aspect of our mission, human connection is at the heart of all we do. In 2014, we began a process with our board and staff to examine who we are and who we aspire to be. We knew that we were about more than resources. We knew that our mission was bigger than our name. How do we honor our roots and move forward?

The result of this process was INCLUDEnyc. The name reflects our deepest values and aspiration for a city that stands for love, access, and equity for people with disabilities. The process and our new identity created a bridge from the past to the vital organization we are today, and positioned us for the challenges and our hopes for the future.

The 8 years I spent at INCLUDEnyc were the most challenging and the most rewarding of my professional life. I have been continually inspired and energized by our staff and board, especially those who are parents of children with disabilities. These staff and board members keep us focused on making a real difference rooted in the lived experience of the families we serve.

While I retired from INCLUDEnyc in early 2016, my continuing connection with Barbara Glassman and others at INCLUDEnyc is a source of pride and hope. I am lucky to have had the honor to help build the bridge from the legacy of Resources for Children with Special Needs to the extraordinary organization INCLUDEnyc is today.