60 years and growing: Al Sigl Member Agencies are testament to collaboration

Historical rendering of the original Al Sigl campus at the corner of Elmwood and South Avenues. (Rendering provided)
Historical rendering of the original Al Sigl Center campus at the corner of Elmwood and South Avenues. (Rendering provided)

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. 

Justin Vigdor, Al Sigl’s founding board chair and an attorney with Bond, Shoeneck & King, was honored for his contributions at the President’s Circle of Hearts reception, held at Lawley’s Rochester office in November. The reception, for Al Sigl supporters, was one of many events held throughout the year to celebrate its anniversary. (Photo provided)

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.

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Ability Partners plans gala in Finger Lakes

Ability Partners Foundation will host its 16th annual Winter Gala and Auction in the Finger Lakes next month, supporting the programs of Happiness House, CP Rochester and Rochester Rehabilitation.

Belhurst Castle will host the Feb. 1 celebration, at which Roy, Nancy and Ross Beecher will be presented the “Happiness is Helping” Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes outstanding individuals who dedicate their time to advocate for people with disabilities and disadvantages and whose accomplishments are consistent with the vision of the agencies.

The Beecher family members have been dedicated supporters of Happiness House for more than 30 years following Ross’ diagnosis of epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Roy Beecher serves as a director of the organization and was instrumental in acquiring the property where the Canandaigua campus is located.

The Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Sandy Landuyt of Sandy’s Floral Gallery. The award is presented to individuals who have provided extraordinary service over a significant period of time to Happiness House.

Joe Lomonaco, co-host of the 5 o’clock News Hour on News Radio WHAM 1180 will serve as auctioneer for the event, while former WHAM-TV Channel 13 news correspondent Patrice Walsh will act as emcee. The event will include live and silent auctions, a cork pull and a cash appeal, sponsored by the Marshall Family Foundation.

The gala also will feature a cake auction that will showcase six decadent cakes from Cake Baby LLC.

CP Rochester was established in 1946 and provides clinical, residential, educational and personal support services to individuals with and without disabilities in the Monroe County region, while Happiness House, an educational, residential, health and human service organization, serves communities in the Finger Lakes region. Rochester Rehabilitation has served the Rochester community since 1919 with an array of physical, mental health and employment services.

The three agencies serve more than 6,000 individuals annually.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Ability Partners Foundation to honor five for civic contributions

Jack Howitt
Jack Howitt

Five individuals and organizations will be honored next week at the Ability Partners Foundation annual Evening of the Stars Gala at Locust Hill Country Club.

Jack Howitt will receive the Harold C. Augustin Founders Award. A former pediatric dentist, Howitt served as a faculty member at University of Rochester’s Eastman Dental Center. During his time as an instructor, Howitt helped design, establish and direct Eastman’s SMILEmobile program.

Howitt, who in 1972 founded Midland management and in 1977 founded Midlakes Development and Construction, is an active member of the Rochester community, serving on a number of boards. He is past chairman of Rochester Rehabilitation Center and a longtime trustee and governor of the Al Sigl Community of Agencies.

As part of his work with Al Sigl, Howitt established the Howitt House residence and rehabilitation facilities for people with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Kathleen Whelehan
Kathleen Whelehan

Kathleen Whelehan will be presented with this year’s Humanitarian of the Year Award. Whelehan is president and CEO of Upstate Bank and is being recognized for her dedication and volunteer service to many nonprofit agencies in the region.

Whelehan serves on several boards including the Al Sigl Foundation, Highland Hospital and Friends of the Rochester Psychiatric Center. She has volunteered at hospices and in the state prison system and has delivered Meals on Wheels for a decade.

The Bonadio Group will be recognized with the Community Partner of the Year Award for its ongoing support to each of the Ability Partners three agencies: CP Rochester, Happiness House and Rochester Rehabilitation. Bonadio has supported the organizations through sponsorships, grants and in-kind donations.

The Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Kids Miracle Making Club. Under the direction of Steve Pellow, the organization has volunteered in Ability Partners’ classrooms, donated toys and other supplies and has been a strong supporter of CP Rochester for years.

Club members enhance the lives of children with disabilities by helping them develop their natural talents and skills through hands-on projects, workshops and volunteer opportunities, officials said.

Richard Hawks
Richard Hawks

Richard Hawks Jr. will be honored with the Outstanding Board Member of the Year Award. Hawks serves as vice chairman of Ability Partners Foundation, is chairman of the development committee and is a founding member of the Happiness House Foundation.

He is involved in a number of agencies that include the Greater Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce and the Canandaigua Rotary Club, West Ontario United Way and the Naples School Board.

“Their impact on the communities in which they live and work is remarkable and as a result, we all benefit,” said Mary Walsh Boatfield, president and CEO of Ability Partners Foundation. “We are making a difference together.”

The Sept. 28 event is sponsored by the Lilliputian Foundation, with Bonadio as the platinum sponsor. Joe Lomonaca, co-host of the 5 O’clock News Hour on News Radio WHAM 1180, will serve as auctioneer at the event, while Patrice Walsh will serve as mistress of ceremonies. The evening will feature a silent auction, cash appeal and a wine cork pull.

Kids Miracle Making Club
Kids Miracle Making Club

The gala also will feature keynote speakers Joshua Jordan and the Jencik Family, who will share a tribute.

“Many thanks to our presenting sponsor, the Lilliputian Foundation, and our platinum sponsor, the Bonadio Group, for their continued support of CP Rochester, Happiness House and Rochester Rehabilitation, as well as to our volunteers, families, donors, businesses and staff who also contribute to the success of this event,” Walsh Boatfield said.

Ability Partners Foundation is a not-for-profit organization established to raise and generate funds that promote, support and augment the continuation of long-term services for people with disabilities offered through CP Rochester, Happiness House and Rochester Rehabilitation. The foundation supports individuals with physical, intellectual and

The Bonadio Group CEO Gerald Archibald
The Bonadio Group CEO Gerald Archibald

developmental disabilities and their families.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Programs to reduce poverty get $1M in state funding

Three Rochester-area poverty-reduction programs will receive nearly $1 million in state funding through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI).

“Through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, we are empowering communities to connect people with opportunities that help move them on a path out of poverty toward economic independence,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release Monday. “I look forward to these programs delivering results and commend Rochester for (its) efforts to get to this point.”

The three poverty-reduction programs approved for funding in Rochester include:

  • Young Adult Manufacturing Training Employment Program—$750,000 to be used to help adults acquire the skills to maintain a living wage job in the manufacturing industry. The program will teach basic work habits and social skills required to work in manufacturing. The pilot will train and employ up to 200 people, while also serving as a model for other employers to emulate in their fields.
  • Rochester Rehabilitation and Action for a Better Community—$75,000 each to create a virtual map showing how individuals progress through agencies delivering services, finding opportunities for greater efficiency, ways agencies can collaborate and areas where individuals may need more support.
  • St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center—$76,000 to expand the organization’s Structural Racism Initiative, with a goal of training 200 individuals from 29 organizations. The program helps local agencies and businesses better understand the issue and develop effective ways to combat it within their own organizations.

“Strengthening our community through education and job-readiness is a long-term solution to helping individuals and families escape poverty,” said Sen. Rich Funke, R-Fairport. “We have companies that want to be here, and I continually hear from employers that they need more trained employees. Hopefully these efforts will help create that connection.”

The governor’s office announced ESPRI in 2016 and 16 communities statewide formed local task forces to oversee efforts and administer state funding. The state modeled ESPRI after the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, part of a broad coalition of state and local government, businesses and nonprofit representatives working together to redesign and coordinate efforts to address extreme poverty here, officials said.

“Through continued partnership and collaboration, the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative is supporting the development and implementation of community-driven plans that are confronting head-on the specific challenges facing families and individuals living in poverty,” Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said. “I am grateful to Gov. Cuomo for delivering funds that will enable these efforts to continue serving and uplifting those in our community who are most in need.”

The fund approval will allow RMAPI to continue its efforts to create systemic change that addresses the root causes of poverty, RMAPI Executive Director Leonard Brock said.

“In the coming year, these efforts will bring higher earnings and increased participation in the labor force, increased effectiveness of benefits, increased accessibility of basic needs, increased funding alignment around the community’s common poverty-reduction agenda and decision-making among key stakeholders that is community and data driving,” Brock said.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer