Kelberman Center: Not Just a Preschool

Center planning to transform Utica facility into a 60-unit apartment building. At least 20 units will be for people with autism

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

One in 59 U.S. children will be diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many, the support they receive early in life makes a difference with how they fit in with their community and also the opportunities available to them for socialization, recreation and employment.

The Kelberman Center, with offices in Syracuse and Utica, serves autistic people and their families in all of these areas, beginning with preschool for children diagnosed as early as 2.

The Kelberman Center provides early intervention through the preschool. While the preschool has helped many people know about the Kelberman Center, that’s not all the organization offers.

“A lot of people may know of just one area that we focus on,” Eryn A. Balch, manager and director of business operations at Kelberman Center. “A lot say, ‘We thought you had only a preschool!’”

Through different life stages, the Kelberman Center works with more than 65 different school districts.

“We work with them with a specific child,” Balch said. “We can do training for teachers so people with autism can be successful in regular classrooms. The school will have a budget for activities that support them.”

The Kelberman Center also organizes social events, including a bowling club, cooking group, camping, equine therapy, Lego club and activities at the Root Farm in Sauquoit in the Mohawk Valley region.

“A lot of times, it’s great to meet other families who ‘get it’ and share their struggles and successes,” Balch.

As participants grow up, the Kelberman Center offers a program for pre-vocational services. This year marks the second supported internship program with Utica College.

“We help with job coaching and trying different career skills,” Balch said. “Utica College lets our students work in different departments throughout the campus,” Balch said.

The 10-month program allows participants to work alongside a job coach.

“They follow a curriculum with how they can better communicate with others,” Balch said. “It’s a very successful program.”

Family support and classes help families learn better strategies for both communicating better and activities of daily living.

Many clinic services are covered by Medicaid and insurance. Fundraisers also help the Kelberman Center provide services at low or no cost to families in need.

“The clinic has really gotten off the ground in the last few years,” Balch said.

She added that the Kelberman Center plans to look at independent living options, including 24-7 supported residence.

“From a parent’s perspective, ‘What will happen when I’m not here anymore?’” Balch said. “We’re still in the early stages, but we’re looking at the former Sunset School building in Utica to make it Sunset Independent Living.”

The organization has purchased the building at 2507 Sunset Ave. with tentative plans to transform it into a 60-unit apartment building. At least 20 units will be reserved for people with autism who may need some support.

“A ‘paid neighbor’ will be someone on-call who can help just in case they need it,” Balch said. “A lot of young adults with autism have a routine and things they do during the day but overnight is sometimes more difficult. A place to go where you know people are there to help opens up a world of opportunity.”

As a mixed-use building, it may also contain office space on the first floor. The organization hasn’t entirely finished its planning at this point. Balch said that the Kelberman Center hopes to expand to a greater geographic area.

“There are a lot of families in need, we’re finding,” Balch said. “We want to continue to grow to meet the needs throughout central New York. We want to work more closely with schools.

“Fifty thousand kids across the US age out of school-based services every year. In 10 years, that’s half a million people who’ll need some kind of support. Many are willing to find a way to be independent.”