Founded in 2011, The Nicholas Center’s mission to "support individuals with autism lead full and productive lives in the community". Co-founders, Stella Spanakos, Nicole Sugrue and Patrick Bardsley considered the question;
"What happens to individuals with special needs when they grow up?”
Collectively, with over 30 years of experience in autism education and nonprofit endeavors, the trio were eager to develop solutions to address this question. Concerned with the lack of meaningful opportunities for young adults after graduation, the vision became to create a community-propelled program model to serve as an alternative to traditional "day habilitation" programs. It would be person-centered and community-fueled. The goal?
To become a self-sustaining and replicable model and make a significant impact on the lives of people with autism.
From inception, The Nicholas Center has taken full advantage of its natural resources by utilizing the community-at-large as a platform for service delivery, forging community partnerships to work with local non-profits and business to assist in their missions and needs, while gaining life skills, job training and independence.
To avoid being solely reliant on the accommodations of an existing community, the co-founders formed a separate nonprofit, Spectrum Designs Foundation. This is an independently operated nonprofit with its own mission of developing community-based businesses and offer employment to those with autism. It has developed accommodating employment principles, uses smart business practices and promotes integrated work environments.
Working in partnership, The Nicholas Center offers coaching supports to Spectrum employees, as well as a Transitional Work Training program for persons not quite "employment ready". This includes those who might never be competitively employed, but still benefit from being engaged in meaningful work opportunities. Today, over 80 individuals benefit from the symbiotic partnership which is mutually beneficial for both entities, 32% of the ASD individuals are employed, 39% have employment potential and are enrolled in Work Training Programs, while 29% are individuals who gain valuable skills in inclusionary settings, but might not achieve competitive employment in the near future.
This collaborative model has widened the positive impact of both organizational missions, while improving the quality of life for all people across the entire autism spectrum. 100% of The Nicholas Center participants have I/DD, 94% have a primary diagnosis of Autism. Program participants come from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and primarily reside in Nassau County (Long Island), New York.
Recently, The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs were encouraged to replicate their partnership "model" into Westchester County, NY.
The expansion proposal was strongly recommended by the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) and ultimately resulted in the New York State Governor awarding $240,000 of capital funding in December 2019. The REDC grant will support a portion of the construction and equipment needs for the 8,000 square foot facility in Pleasantville. Additionally, an aggressive Capital Campaign has resulted in over $500,000 of additional private support. Fourteen “Founding Families” in Westchester committed to bringing both The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs to the region. In 2020, both organizations expanded services and opened locations in Pleasantville, NY.