2021 marks a decade of service for The Nicholas Center (TNC), a pre-eminent nonprofit organization specializing in Autism support, vocational training, community partnership and peer connection. The organization has experienced a meteoric rise from its early days where the idea took root in a small barn at co-Founder, Stella Spanakos’ home. Today, the organization works with more than 100 individuals in two locations and offers virtual programming launched during the COVID shut-down last year. The organization has forged meaningful partnerships with nonprofits and businesses in their communities. In 2020, TNC expanded to a second location in Westchester. The organization is positioned for growth and the potential for advancement is limitless.
“For 10 years, working with our partners at Spectrum Designs Foundation, we have collectively addressed some of the most pressing issues facing the Autism community and developed innovative solutions to drive transformational change, even during the greatest health crisis of our time, working to advance inclusion, bridging gaps in service disparities and supporting the needs of people with Autism across Long Island, and now Westchester,” Co-Founder and Executive Director, Nicole Sugrue said.
The statistics are daunting, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in 54 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When school-based services end at age 21, families find themselves at a loss for what comes next, in terms of opportunity, support and employment. TNC has revolutionized continuing education and care for these exceptional adults who face 80 percent under-engagement once school ends. Offering challenging and stimulating programming, TNC allows and encourages individuals to follow their passions and interests, hone social and vocational skills and gives them a chance to live fulfilling and full lives.
The Nicholas Center began after the sudden death of Paul Kitsos, husband of Co-founder Stella Spanakos. Prior to his death they were discussing options for their 18-year-old son Nicholas, who was preparing to transition to life after high school. Unhappy with the options available, they began discussing a social service agency to support individuals with Autism and related disabilities that would encompass vocational training, community-based experiences and opportunities. Eighty-five percent of individuals with disabilities are unemployed, which led to the decision to create a social enterprise to offer vocational opportunities and employment with real wages. As a tribute and legacy to Stella’s late husband Paul, Co-Founders Stella Spanakos, Nicole Sugrue and Patrick Bardsley rolled up their sleeves and set out to make this a reality. Ten years of amazing milestones have been achieved. Of note—a documentary film This Business of Autism—chronicled the story and was screened at the U.S. Capital Theatre in Washington D.C. Amidst a global pandemic, TNC pivoted to virtual programming, offering a continuum of services and peer connection.
Along with their partner Spectrum Designs, expanded services to a second location in Westchester, in the fall of 2020. In actions and words, TNC exemplifies inclusion and opportunity to an underserved population.
TNC was awarded the NY State Senate Empire Business Award as, “the most impactful and socially innovative agency of its kind in New York State.” The breadth and scope of the organization’s programming and reach is impressive from daily virtual sessions, a weekly online news program, community engagement opportunities helping neighbors and participating at businesses to hands-on pre-vocational training and employment with Spectrum Designs and others.
“I am proud of the ground-breaking work and innovative achievements of our staff and participants.” TNC Board President, Amy Beyer said. “The secret sauce? Focus on the individual meeting each person where they are and assisting with what they need. This has been a winning combination. I have seen the difference firsthand in the lives of individuals with Autism.”
TNC is grateful for community partners and organizations who have been instrumental in supporting our mission and growth including, Community Chest of Port Washington, Plant a Row for the Hungry, Manhasset Community Fund, North Shore Autism Circle, Doug Flutie Foundation, Residents Forward and Unsung Sibling Foundation.
For more information or to support the important work of The Nicholas Center, visit www.tncnewyork.org.