By Mary Beth Roach
Executive Director at AccessCNY talks about a new facility the nonprofit plans to build in northern Onondaga County — ‘there is a tremendous need in that part of the county,’ he says
Q: What is the mission of AccessCNY? How many people do you serve and what is your coverage area?
A: AccessCNY offers person-centered services that empower individuals at all ages and abilities to reach their full potential. We serve people of all ages, people with a mental health diagnosis, developmental disability or physical disability. We support well more than 3,000 people annually. We offer about 30 programs to support them. We employ about 1,400 people to operate those programs. We are on the larger scale of human service organizations. Our geographic region is primarily Onondaga County. I would say about 80% of our services are provided in the county, but we do programs in each of the contiguous counties to Onondaga.
Q: AccessCNY recently received a $1.2 million state grant for a new facility in northern Onondaga County. Is this grant going to be enough to complete the project or are other funding sources being sought?
A: We’ll definitely need some other funding sources. The $1.2 million covers capital, the land and the building essentially. We know we’ll need other amenities. We’re developing a plan right now to do some fund- raising for that those types of things.
Q: Are you starting from the ground up?
A: We’re looking for locations right now. Our preference is to start from the ground up because we will then be able to build a building that best meets the needs of those who will be receiving services.
Q: Do you have any target dates when you want to break ground and complete the project?
A: That’s something we’re developing right now. Our target is to be able to open late 2023, but our first step in the process is to speak with children who might receive services from the program when it’s open and their families to make sure we have a really good understanding of what they would like to see and then we will retain an architect to help us develop and design the space.
Q: Is this going to be a children-only facility?
A: We have a couple of adult-based respite homes already, but there is a significant need for children’s respite. That was a big need in the community before the pandemic. The pandemic just exacerbated that. We’ll be serving children who have a developmental disability and also a mental health diagnosis or behavioral challenges.
Q: Can you briefly describe what you mean by respite home?
A: There will be two different types or respite, planned respite and emergency respite. Planned respite would be for when parents of a child with developmental disabilities needs to go out of town and they’re looking for a safe place for their children. The emergency respite component is a situation where a child has unstable or unsafe housing or has an immediate need. Maybe a parent or caregiver is suddenly in the hospital and there’s an immediate need for that child to receive residential respite support.
Q: Was there a reason why you chose northern Onondaga County?
A: Because the funding was secured by Assemblyman (Al) Stirpe, we wanted to recognize that by having the location within his district. But also there is a tremendous need in that part of the county. There’s a concentration of people living in that area and therefore a concentration of need also.
Q: Do you have an idea of how many children you might be to accommodate in this facility?
A: Our current thinking is that we will accommodate 10 children. We’re thinking the planned respite would be five or six of those beds and the emergency respite would be four or five.
Q: Do you know some of the amenities that you want to include or that should be included?
A: We have an idea of a few of them. The 10 or so respite beds, but we want to add social work counseling, mental health counseling for either the kids that are there or other children in the community who many not be using the respite beds … can go to the location to receive that support as well. We also want to have a recreation area for the kids, probably a playground and install outdoor safety flooring similar to https://playgroundresurfacing.uk/. Another component is a sensory room, which is especially important for kids with autism. It helps them realize how their bodies react to sensory stimulation and really helps them develop those skills.
The planned respite could take many different shapes. It doesn’t have to be overnight, but it could be when school’s out for the summer or the holidays. It could be just other times when children need a break and parents need a break.
Q: What will this new facility mean for AccessCNY?
A: It means that we will be able to help address what is a huge need in our community. We’re in the larger scale of human service organizations in our community. We pride ourselves on really staying in tune with the needs of people with disabilities and people with mental health diagnosis to understand how we can address those needs. It was easy for us to decide how we wanted to use this funding if we were to get it, because this has been such a huge need, so it helps us by helping the people that we serve.