Category Archives: Uncategorized



On May 18, family and friends gathered to admire the wonderful creations made by Children’s Academy students.  Each class focused on different styles and subjects for inspiration.  The result was an eclectic mix of self expression that also represents growth and learning.


Sincere proudly showing off his Mother's Day gift

Sincere proudly showing off his Mother’s Day gift

A cold and stormy spring here in Western New York may be delaying the arrival of daffodils and tulips, but in Ms. Shaila’s class, students’ hard work and love made their personalized heart shaped flowers bloom with vigor for their moms.  Like flowers, each heart blossom was unique, with the child’s picture surrounded by their thumb prints.   Moms’ hearts must have melted when they received these wonderful keepsakes.


Batman, Superboy and Wonder Woman took time away from saving the world to greet propsective students at the Children's Academy open house

Batman, Super Boy and Wonder Woman took time away from saving the world to greet prospective students at the Children’s Academy open house

Batman, Wonder Woman and Super Boy welcomed prospective students and their families at the first annual Children’s Academy open house, held on Monday, April 24.  Visitors were invited to come dressed as their favorite super hero, and received a Lego superhero book.  Families met staff, took tours and learned about the school’s standout offerings including the newly renovated sensory room, integrated learning options and low student to teacher ratios.  The goal of this event is to expand the experience of learning alongside all abilities to more children who are typically developing.

July 10 through August 18
Half Day Hours: 8:40 – 11:10 a.m., 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Full Day Classes: 9:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

September 6, 2017 Through June 21, 2018
Half Day Hours: 8:40 – 11:10 a.m., 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.
Full Day Classes: 9:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Before- and After-School Options from 8:00 a.m.- 5 p.m.



Tracey Byrd, who worked in Empower’s Community Housing division for almost twenty years, passed away suddenly in March.  Tracey had a radiant smile and loving demeanor that put everyone she encountered instantly at ease.  Watching her interact with residents, it was clear Tracey loved them and they loved her because she took the time to get to know them and supported them in attaining what was most important to them.  In this way, Tracy embodied Empower’s core values of dignity, excellence, leadership, accountability and collaboration.

Tracey’s family held a balloon launch in April to remember her.


autism fundraiser

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month and to raise funds for Empower’s autism programming, Robin Stevens held an event at Niagara Active Hose on Saturday, April 22.  The event consisted of a vendor fair, basket auction and food truck.  Further, throughout April, the Village Bakeshop in Lewiston sold a special cookie iced in blue to denote autism and $1 of each cookie sold was donated back to Empower.  Over $500 was raised.  Many thanks to those who came out!


In February, Eric Cirrito, a direct service professional at the Ward Rd. residence, was nominated for the value of accountability as part of the Living the Values monthly staff nomination program.  Eric ensures the individuals he supports have what they need to live their best lives.  Congratulations, Eric!


Newly complete walk-in shower at Mapleton

Newly complete walk-in shower at Mapleton

Mapleton got a beautiful new walk-in shower which makes bathing easier while protecting the floors in other parts of the house.

Steele Circle got all new flooring throughout, ensuring residents have pleasant looking surroundings.


Empower CEO Jeff Paterson along with Community Prevocational Program participants Mike, Jamius and Robin receiving $24,719 check from KeyBank Senior Vice President and Regional Corporate Responsibility Officer Cathy Braniecki

Empower CEO Jeff Paterson along with Community Prevocational Program participants Mike, Jamarius and Robin receiving $24,719 check from KeyBank Senior Vice President and Regional Corporate Responsibility Officer Cathy Braniecki


Thanks to a $24,719 grant from the KeyBank Foundation, Empower will expand its Community Prevocational program (operated under New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities) to include scanning and shredding services open to local households, small businesses and nonprofits.   Similar to Empties to Empower and located in the same building, individuals with disabilities will receive job training in an integrated setting, gaining confidence, social skills and valuable work experience that will prepare them for competitive employment.

Volunteers Needed

Empower is looking for volunteers to help out in the Children’s Academy.  Helpers are needed to organize rooms, prepare crafts and read to students.  If interested, please complete this form.

Snowflake Basket Auction A Huge Success

Almost $16,000 was raised at the 8th annual Snowflake Basket Auction, which took place on March 24 and 25 at the Volare Lodge. Hot items this year included a big screen tv, hand-made stained glass art, and, of course, a plethora of themed baskets and gift certificates.

More Big Ticket Raffle prizes were offered including a diamond necklace and Confer Bistro Set.

Proceeds will be used to send individuals to Camp Happiness, which is a summer camp for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  Additionally, the Medicaid Service Coordination department will purchase food, back-to-school supplies and holiday gifts for families who receive their services.  Finally, Community Housing will use funds to buy and plant a tree at one of the residences.

Empower would like to thank everyone whose support helped to make this year’s event so successful.  Special thanks to our event sponsors: Disney, Randy’s Smoke Shop, Smokin Joes, and Wegmans.



Call Your Legislators Today

  1. Senate switchboard – (518) 455 – 2800 – and ask for your Senator.  You can find your Senator at   Urge your Senator to BFair2DirectCare and fund the $45 million .


  1. Assembly switchboard (518) 455-4100 – and ask for your Assemblymember.  You can find your Assemblymember at   Urge your Assemblymember to BFair2DirectCare and fund the $45 million .


Empower belongs to three alliances of developmental disability organizations: Coalition of Provider Associations, Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) and Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York (DDAWNY.)   One of the reasons for these collaboratives is to ensure the interests of individuals with developmental disabilities are heard by government so that when it comes time to approve the New York State budget, sufficient money has been allocated to fulfill these interests.

Direct service professionals (DSPs) work directly with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, ensuring their well-being, safety and health.  Despite this high-level of responsibility, pay is low and not enough to live on, resulting in high turnover and vacancy rates (Empower’s 10% vacancy rate is half New York State’s 20% vacancy rate.)  Agencies like Empower are working together to ensure compensation is reflective of the high level of decision-making and responsibility DSPs undertake, but we need your help.  Please contact your legislators and let them know that DSPs deserve a living wage.

#bfair2directcare is an joint advocacy effort spearheaded by CP of NYS and DDAWNY to lobby for $45 million to be added to the state budget for the next five years to support a living wage for direct care workers, teacher aides and other staff.  Empower has been doing its part, contacting Governor Cuomo, Assemblymember Morinello and Senator Ortt to remind them about individuals with developmental disabilities, direct care workers and the need for increased funding for wages.  This momentum will be kept up until the final budget is approved in April.

We value every Empower employee for upholding our mission: empowering those we serve to live their best lives.  Throughout this issue are examples of how Empower staff worked extra hard to make the holidays a special time for our individuals.  Every day, from Halloween through Christmas, people went above and beyond, promoting areas of need and answering that call through the delivery of gifts and good cheer.  Regardless of the budget outcome, we will prevail in being there for our workers and the individuals all of us are lucky enough to serve.  It is what we do, and as this issue illustrates, we do it well.


Sensory Room Renovations Complete

The popular bubble columns are once again captivating Children’s Academy students thanks to a renovation of the sensory room. Additional improvements include replacement of the mat around the columns, replacement of the fiber optic cascade and mat, and installation of new projection equipment and images.



The sensory room is an integral part of occupation therapy. It helps to calm or awaken Children’s Academy students and enables them to return to the classroom refreshed and better able to learn.

This renovation was made possible thanks to a small grant from the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, and a donation from Charles Dieteman, a student at Lewiston-Porter Middle School who has cerebral palsy and who raises awareness and funds for cerebral palsy each year at home with help from the Builder’s Club.

Sensitive Santa

Tristan and Adalyn tell Santa what they want most for Christmas

Tristan and Adalyn tell Santa what they want most for Christmas

Once again, Empower offered Children’s Academy students and families of children with special needs one-on-one, quiet time with Santa. Some children with disabilities, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder, are more sensitive to and are unable to process bright lights, loud noises or crowded areas that go along with this popular tradition. Sensitive Santa ensures that every child gets the chance to visit Santa, to share what they most want for the holidays and to preserve the memory by having a photo taken. Families appreciated having this fun, anxiety-free option.

Halloween Parade and Haunted Hallway

Everyone had a frightfully good time on October 31 when Children’s Academy teachers, students and parents paraded throughout the building in imaginative costumes for treats.  Bravery was required to enter the Haunted Hallway.  Students and even staff proceeded with caution, daring to enter the darkened hall between school wings in order to receive goodies from witchy teachers peering out from creepy classrooms.

Students Celebrate the Seasons


In honor of Veteran’s Day, students in Michele Senay’s class, including Alexis and Camden (pictured), made cards to thank veterans for their service.

Additional Resources that Are Needed in 2017

  • The Arts Services Initiative of Western New York agreed to continue funding the program in 2017 with a $1,500 grant. However, this is $1,400 less than was provided in 2016 to cover the acting instructor stipend and supplies/materials.  Empower is seeking this amount for these expenses in 2017.
  • An additional $2,900 is needed to cover the cost of a second acting instructor stipend.  Given the program’s success, we expect enrollment to grow.  We would like to accept up to 20 students per cohort, but based on what was learned in 2016, if the student to instuctor ratio exceeds 3 instructors per 8-9 students, key program benefits (individualized attention and positive reinforcement of desired social skills) will be compromised.  A second acting instructor, additional volunteers  and another older student with autism to mentor students and to assist during classes and final performances are needed to maintain and expand program benefits to students.
  • The provision of a larger space in which to hold dress rehearsals and final performances.  In 2016, these events were held in the Empower’s Children’s Academy teacher’s lounge and gross motor room.  Over 50 people attended both final performances; the room was overcrowded, and hot and stuffy.  Further, depending on where attendees sat, the view may have been obstructed due to a room divider that needed to be partially closed for set changes and for students’ comfort.  Empower is hoping that a nearby school will offer up its auditorium at no charge for two dress rehearsals and two final performances that will take place in late summer and late fall of 2017.  Meeting at the larger space prior to the final performance will allow students who are more sensitive to change due to their autism diagnosis time to adapt to the new space.  Further, larger accommodations will increase attendees’ comfort during final performances.

If you are interested in donating to the Spectrum Theater Program, or in offering up performance space, please contact Elizabeth Cardamone at (716) 297-0798, ext. 173 or  Online donations also are accepted by clicking here.

Lessons Learned

Enrollment was below the target (13 actual vs. 40 targeted), but all 3 instructors reported that it was challenging to manage and evoke positive change in 8 to 9 students enrolled in each cohort.  This was especially true in the second cohort which consisted of younger students who were more severely affected by autism.  Future cohorts should procure additional instructors and/or limit student enrollment to assure outcomes are achieved.

The space in which final performances were held was too small to hold all attendees comfortably.  A larger space should be procured for future final performances.

Due to low enrollment among Niagara County residents, students from across Western New York were accepted into the program. One student, who participated in both cohorts, traveled from Hamburg, attesting to interest and need for similar programs in other Western New York counties.

Although offered the opportunity to enroll a sibling/friend, most parents said that their children had few friends, and that making friends was a desired outcome of the theater program.  During the first session, a female participant was supposed to attend with her older sister, but the older sister opted not to participate.  A set of boy/girl twins participated in the second session, but since both of them are on the spectrum, the scenario did not pertain to this objective.  While this option still should be offered in future cohorts, our experience is that it is unlikely to be taken advantage of.

Keys to Program Success

Program success was attributed to the personalized approach taken; Robin Stevens got to know each family prior to the first class and modified lessons based on students’ individual needs and goals.

The instructors’ fluid and collaborative approach also was critical to the programs’ positive impact on students as students’ individual characteristics dictated the groups’ dynamics and workshops’ and final performances’ structures.  Ms. Bri never lost her temper with students and used only positive reinforcement.  When students wandered away or when they were disruptive, instructors listened to their needs and calmly redirected students back to the lessons when they were ready.

Joe, who is 21 and who also has autism, assisted Robin and Ms. Bri during lessons and final performances.  Students in both cohorts responded very well to having an older student who also has autism go through the classes with them, mentoring and instructing them throughout the process.  More mentors will be sought in future cohorts.

Program Successes

Thirteen children ranging in age from 7 to 15 and at all areas of the autism spectrum participated in both cohorts, held in the Summer and Fall of 2016.

During the theater sessions, participants experienced varying degrees of improvement in social skills.  Eye contact with others was a significant skill deficit for all in the beginning.  By the end of the each session, there was significant improvement for all in both focusing on the speaker and looking at the person to whom they were speaking. Interrupting the speaker also decreased for everyone.

Group interaction provided opportunities for students to help each other work through challenges, which was an unexpected positive outcome that occurred.

Another observed program impact was that certain students progressed so much in their social skills development as a result of the program that they comforted and in some cases did therapy with peers who were having a tough time.  The majority of students in the second cohort were younger and more severely affected by autism.  Their behavior often was disruptive and difficult to manage.  During the dress rehearsal, two of these students expressed their frustration by lashing out, screaming and crying.  Two older students, Joshua and Owen, recognized that their friends needed help, and assisted the instructors in calming them down enough so that they could communicate the source of their frustration and reengage in the lesson.  It was truly amazing to witness their personal growth which enabled them to comfort their friends.

Benefits to participants’ families included increased community engagement, respite (resulting in stress relief and better parenting) during workshops and an opportunity to see their children perform in a play.