Six decades ago, a group of parents and advocates joined forces to create a collaborative community network of organizations that service children and adults with special needs.
They were on to something.
The Al Sigl Community of Agencies — which is celebrating its 60th year — has expanded from its first location on Elmwood Avenue to encompass nearly two dozen buildings on six campuses.
It has also grown from serving 3,000 to serving over 55,000, with an increasing number of individuals and families turning to Al Sigl Member Agencies for help and support each year.
“It was an innovative model that focused on doing things together in a more efficient way,” said Tom O’Connor, Al Sigl’s president, adding the model could be replicated in other communities outside of the region.
Nancy Catarisano, chair of Al Sigel’s board of directors and managing partner of Insero & Co. CPAs, agreed that the Al Sigel concept was not only one-of-a-kind, but also important to the community.
“The founders of Al Sigl were ahead of their times recognizing that a collaborative network would be so important in allowing multiple organizations to focus on the services they provide to the members of our community, while Al Sigl could focus on cost-effective space and philanthropic support to them,” she said. “Collaboration wasn’t a term often used 60 years ago but is the key to our success.”
The initial concept was simple, O’Connor said.
The goal was to create a convenient, accessible space that would bring many agencies together under one roof, with specialized and shared spaces to support each distinct mission and program and foster collaboration for the good of all.
O’Connor initially got involved with Al Sigl as a volunteer in 2008 and served as its marketing director and vice president of operations before becoming president in 2016.
Among his proudest achievements is the opening in 2019 of the Golisano Autism Center, which offers evaluation, early intervention, childcare, after school and respite services, employment, arts and theater, a housing liaison and more.
O’Connor said one of the advantages of the model is that it allows organizations to come together while maintaining their own independence.
The focus is on providing complimentary services, rather than competitive ones, which can allow for shared support of the individuals served, he explained.
Another area where Al Sigl can provide support is real estate, he said. The collaborative offers high-quality, cost-effective real estate options for not-for-profit organizations looking for environments that are welcoming and inclusive for people of all abilities.
Al Sigl member agencies include CP Rochester, EPI, Medical Motor Service, National MS Society Upstate NY, Rochester Hearing & Speech Center, Rochester Rehabilitation and Starbridge.
Leaders of the organizations meet monthly to stay connected and share successes and challenges.
Among the biggest challenges all the Al Sigl organizations deal with is staffing shortages, O’Connor said, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the retirement of many baby boomers.
The pandemic, as well as inflationary pressures, has also led to an increase in the number of people seeking services from the Al Sigl agencies, from mental health services to support with managing finances, O’Connor noted.
That, in turn, has promoted Al Sigl leaders to reassess its space needs, begin work on updating its strategic plan and start looking at possible locations for expansion, which may come to fruition over the next 18 months.
“We expect to continue to grow,” O’Connor said.
He added that the business community can help with that growth, noting Al Sigl agencies are always looking for volunteers who can give their time, whether that be at events, on various committees or serving as a community ambassador.
Providing such support can be a rewarding experience, he said.
“It’s a great feeling to know you are truly changing lives,” O’Connor said.
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