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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 

Starbridge receives $2 million grant

Starbridge Inc. has received a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue its work with families and schools to make a positive difference in educational opportunities for students across New York State.

“I’m so pleased that Starbridge has received this exciting award from the U.S. Department of Education,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle. “Their work through the Parent Training and Information Center has helped countless families of children with disabilities, creating a communication and support system that helps students of all abilities thrive. I’m grateful for their dedicated efforts to uplift families in our community and look forward to their continued service for years to come.”

Starbridge will continue to serve as the Parent Training and Information Center (PTIC) for all of New York State except the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island. Its region includes 8.3 million people in 55 counties and 551 school districts, including most of the state’s rural districts and four of the five largest urban districts: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.

PTIC staff provide information and strategies through free workshops and webinars and through personalized support to families and youth.

“We have found that when families of children with disabilities feel heard, we can then help them strategize how to set goals, support their children, and partner with their children’s school teams,” said Jenny Hutkowski, director of family and youth education at Starbridge. “When families and schools work together, we see better educational outcomes and more opportunities for our children as they reach adulthood.”

New to this grant cycle is an expanded focus on supporting families whose children face educational barriers based on race, ethnicity, income, native language, family support and internet access, officials said.

“Since our founding, we have worked for inclusion. Sixty years ago, our work started because parents wanted better opportunities for their children with disabilities,” said Starbridge President and CEO Colin Garwood. “Families of diverse cultures and abilities across the state are still striving for those better opportunities. We want to be a resource for them in navigating systems and breaking down barriers to student success.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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