Visit the cotton candy station to find the action at Kulanu’s annual fair this Sunday afternoon in Andrew J. Parise Cedarhurst Park, said Bob Block, who was recently hired to do corporate fundraising and community outreach for the agency.
“You will see the kids smiling from ear to ear,” Block said, as he and Kulanu Executive Director Beth Raskin hosted a reporter in the agency’s Cedarhurst office on June 1.
Block used that image to bring Kulanu’s mission to life. For the past 17 years, it has helped special-needs boys and girls and young adults navigate their way from childhood to maturity. In addition, Kulanu, Hebrew for “all of us,” also has programs for parents, guardians and special-needs adults.
Up to 200 special-needs people are involved in Kulanu programs, assisted by 150 full-time faculty members and up to 70 volunteers. There are 10- and 12-month educational programs and four primary divisions.
Drawing from “all over the map,” Raskin said, clients come from within a 50-mile radius of Cedarhurst, which includes the Five Towns, the South Shore of Long Island and across New York City. Though its name is Hebrew, Kulanu’s clients are not all Jewish, she said.
“This is a heavy responsibility to be part of someone’s life,” Raskin said. “But we have a full and robust team to look after these children and adults to help them grow and have fun.”
To help Kulanu grow and improve its programs, Raskin said the agency hired Block “to keep Bob’s skills in the community.” For six years, he was the executive director of Woodmere-based Community Chest South Shore (formerly the Five Towns Community Chest), a charitable organization that raises money for local institutions and assists individuals in need through its Neighbors Helping Neighbors program.
“It’s his passion, he’s someone who dives into the deep end,” Raskin said about Block’s ability to be connected and involved in the agency’s mission and the community that it serves. A Woodmere resident, Block also owns the Jewelry Showroom in Cedarhurst.
Kulanu Academy’s educational division provides middle and senior high school students with what Kulanu officials say is an individualized and innovative learning experience.
The Keren Eliana Parent Advocacy and Resource Center helps families with advocacy, clinical referrals, service coordination and a personalized plan to aid in navigating the complex web of social services. The resource center also holds parent-training seminars every three months.
A Social Services Division provides recreational activities for children of all ages, seven days a week. Caregivers also can take breaks through the vacation respite programs.
Vocational and life skills training are available through the Vocational and Adult Services Division to those people aiming to use their abilities to enhance employment and personal goals.
“We want them to secure a job on their own and be a viable member of society — not relying on the system for existence,” Block said.
Kulanu, which is certified by the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, relies on fundraising such as the fair, an annual dinner and private donations. Raskin credited Rachel Berg with coordinating the events.
Raskin added that obtaining corporate support is “critical” to Kulanu’s mission to help their clients reach their potential and be a functioning member of society.
Originally established in 1978 as the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities coordinates services for more than 128,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and other neurological impairments.
“Kulanu’s programs provide people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with vital community connections that empower people to live fulfilling, rewarding lives and strengthen communities,” said Scott Sandman, a spokesman for the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.
Sunday’s community fair — open to everyone — runs from 12:30 to 5:30 pm.