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INCLUDEnyc Celebrates 40 Years of Sharing Love, Equity, and Access for Young People With Disabilities in New York City

June 1, 2023
Press Release

June 1, 2023 – New York, NY – Founded by three determined mothers who had children with disabilities, INCLUDEnyc celebrates 40 years of enhancing the quality of life for New York City children and young people with disabilities, ages birth through 26, and their families.

“For 40 years, INCLUDEnyc has worked tirelessly to provide one-to-one support for our youth with disabilities, parents, caregivers, and professionals,” said Cheryelle Cruickshank, Executive Director at INCLUDEnyc. “It warms my heart to see how much we have accomplished for our families, as we look forward to expanding our reach and our footprint in fostering love, equity, and access within our community.” 

“As we celebrate 40 years of dedication to youth with disabilities, I am proud of INCLUDEnyc’s accomplishments that have built the foundation for our community,” said Owen King, Board Chair of INCLUDEnyc. “Last year, INCLUDEnyc touched over 440,000 lives through the Help Line, workshops, resources, and events like Outdoors for Autism that our staff, volunteers, and donors make possible to support our work for young people with disabilities.”

History of INCLUDEnyc

INCLUDEnyc began as Resources for Children with Special Needs at a kitchen table by three mothers who had children with disabilities – Helene Craner, Tondra Lynford, and Karen Schlesinger – and launched in June 1983. In its first six months, the organization helped 129 people. In 2022, INCLUDEnyc provided support for over 14,000 youth with disabilities, families, and professionals. 

“That simple idea of love for children who were being left behind and denied basic rights kept us going as we searched for funding and for acceptance in New York City’s vast network of social service agencies, many of which perceived us as unqualified upstart rivals. But our passion kept us going,” said Helene.

Together, the mothers worked with a board and an advisory board to build an organization that would support other parents just like them – a structure that would be sustainable for future generations of youth with disabilities. 

Operations started small. The founders kept index cards for every resource for young people with disabilities that they gathered over several years. That collection eventually grew into a database, created in partnership with Hunter College. In 1996, the organization published its first annual Information and Advocacy: A Directory of Resources for New York City Children with Special Needs and Their Families. Today, the website features over 200 resources in multiple languages to increase accessibility. The INCLUDEnyc Help Line, which answered over 3,300 requests last year, also provides assistance for families in English, Spanish, and over 200 other languages.                                                                                                                                                                              

Resources for Children with Special Needs changed its name to INCLUDEnyc in 2015 to foster a sense of inclusivity. As the staff continued to grow, outreach expanded. In 2017, INCLUDEnyc became a federally-funded Community Parent Resource Center (CPRC) for northern Manhattan and the South Bronx serving Spanish-speaking communities. In that same year, the organization also launched its Spanish website

In 2019, INCLUDEnyc was selected by the New York State Education Department as the comprehensive Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Center for all five boroughs of New York City to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Additionally, INCLUDEnyc’s Project Possibility program, launched in 2014, helps young adults with disabilities advocate for themselves and reach their college, career, and independent living goals. The annual College is Possible event aims to broaden college access to young adults with disabilities. 

In 2022, INCLUDEnyc produced over 600 workshops on navigating the special education programs and processes in New York. A virtual support group is also available for parents and caregivers. The annual INCLUDEnyc Fair also connects families with organizations and programs supporting young people with disabilities. Outdoors for Autism, INCLUDEnyc’s sensory-friendly summer day in the park, drew record numbers in 2022 with over 700 attendees. And 2023 marked the launch of the first-ever Staten Island Camp, Resource, and After-School Resource Fair, an in-person event that featured representatives from 35 local programs. 

“As we continue to grow, we listen to the needs of our families to help youth with disabilities and support an inclusive society for all,” said Ms. Cruickshank. “It’s our mission to support the love on which INCLUDEnyc was built.”