People are as unique as the number of ways in which they give. Ten years ago, Teri Brown decided to take out an annual life insurance policy with The Kennedy Center as the beneficiary. At the time, Teri felt she was not in a position to make as large a contribution to the organization as she would have liked and she had heard of this form of giving from various colleges. Her motivation was her younger sister Julie, who was born blind and profoundly deaf and had been receiving services from The Kennedy Center for close to thirty years. Teri explains, “My family and I feel very strongly about supporting The Kennedy Center. We want it to survive not just for our own interests, but for those who find themselves similarly situated.” Teri avidly describes The Kennedy Center as a place where everyone is supported and has shared values, much like a family.
Teri chose to make a relatively small donation each year until she could make a significant donation to The Kennedy Center’s endowment. Each year, Teri sends a check to The Kennedy Center for the annual payment for the life insurance policy. Today, in addition to the life insurance policy, Teri supports many of the annual fundraisers, participates on various committees, and contributes to The Kennedy Center through a United Way payroll deduction. Accordingly, her family has been blessed to receive services from The Kennedy Center and they consider it a duty and a privilege to give back. In depicting The Kennedy Center Teri earnestly states, “The Kennedy Center is well run, so I feel good donating to an organization that is responsible with its funds and has a direct impact on the community.”
Dottie & Gil Kellersman
It is a beautifully crisp and clear morning in summer when Gil and Dottie Kellersman begin telling the story of their daughter Lisa. Sitting at the dining room table, over the morning cup of coffee, reviewing the day’s “to do” list, they appear just like any other couple. As the story unfolds, it is easy to see that few can ever grasp the austere nature of their thirty-eight year journey as parents of a child with autism. As the character Atticus stated in the infamous To Kill a Mocking Bird, “You never know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk about in them.” Their story begins when far fewer supports for families with autistic children existed than there are today. By the age of one it was evident to the Kellersmans that their daughter had special needs. Lisa had exhibited behaviors such as failing to make eye contact, rocking on all fours for extended periods of time, and failing to verbalize as her peers. In time Lisa was diagnosed with mild Intellectual disability, autism, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Subsequently, the Kellersmans naturally sought assistance to ensure that Lisa would have the best quality of life possible.
Lisa began early intervention services through the Fairfield school district during her elementary school years. The school district did an excellent job at the time, but as Lisa grew, so did her adverse behaviors. Her positive elementary school experience was followed by a long period of escalating aggression and unrestrained control. Much to the sorrow and dismay of her parents, Lisa’s behaviors exceeded the capabilities of one autism program after another. For almost a decade the family experienced a rapid succession of programmatic failures that eventually triggered overwhelming stress and a genuine sense of helplessness for everyone. “We didn’t have help. Lisa seemed used to failing by this time, and so much valuable time that was needed to make headway in her development was lost.” Dottie explains. Finally, Lisa’s caseworker identified The Kennedy Center, Inc. after so many unsuccessful program experiences.
The Kennedy Center staff immediately met with Lisa, made an assessment and said they could work with her. “I don’t know what we would have done if it weren’t for The Kennedy Center. If they hadn’t accepted Lisa, we couldn’t imagine what our next option would have been,” states Gil Kellersman. For so many years little progress was made, but thanks to the efforts of The Kennedy Center, there was hope. The Kellersmans could actually envision a future for their daughter.
Lisa’s case was considered so exceptional that Kennedy Center staff received an Exemplary Care Grant Award from the International Crisis Prevention Institute in recognition of their accomplishment with Lisa and their outstanding achievements as human service professionals. The Care Grant is awarded to only one facility throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England. Consequently, Kennedy Center staff were acknowledged for their incredible success with Lisa and for making a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.
The Kennedy Center’s staff has consistently demonstrated that positive programming, creative problem solving, teamwork, and a commitment to excellence can bring about new solutions and positive outcomes for even the most complex individuals with disabilities. Lynn McCrystal, Vice President of Kennedy Industries recalls, “When Lisa first began with us, we took the attitude that we were never going to give up. As a result, we have seen huge growth with Lisa.” Today Lisa is described as a smart woman who thrives in Project Pace, one of The Kennedy Center’s Community Experience programs. She advocates her needs and wants, helps out at her program, cares for her peers and staff, enjoys swimming, cooking and going out into the community. Lisa was 21 years of age when she entered The Kennedy Center. Today at age 38, Lisa, has made significant strides towards independence, and her parents are two of The Kennedy Center’s most adamant supporters. Gil has served on The Kennedy Center’s Board for 14 years, and Dottie is the President of The Kennedy Center’s Auxiliary. Lisa currently resides with her parents and she takes great delight in the support of a network of family and friends whom she shares mutual interests.