ACHIEVE advocates for more statewide support

By Erika Mahoney

March 8, 2014 Updated Mar 8, 2014 at 12:50 AM EDT

Town of Dickinson, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Lorri Calleo says her son would be lost without ACHIEVE, a New York agency that supports people with developmental disabilities.

"He would just be sitting at home ... he needs to have that support," Calleo said.

But programs like ACHIEVE could be lost -- as a result in state aid cuts, parents and educators say.

"Over the past four to five years, there's been about $400 million in cuts to the types of services and programs we provide," ACHIEVE CEO Mary Jo Thorn said.

Thorn said it's hurting thousands.

"We have about 12,000 individuals across the state who are looking for and/or in need of day service opportunities," Thorn said.

ACHIEVE is advocating for change, by supporting two statewide initiatives pushed by the New York State Chapter of The Arc and NYSARC and Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State.

The first calls on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to increase funding by $11.25 million for services and programs like ACHIEVE.

The town of Dickinson-based ACHIEVE, where Calleo's son attends, offers two different programs -- one that matches students with local employment opportunities and another that focuses on developing life skills.

"He loves to come here, loves to come, in fact when he leaves, he wants to know when he's coming back," Calleo said.

Calleo can't thank those who help her son enough, which relates to the second initiative: Calling on higher wages for direct support professionals. Thorn said they currently make an average of between $9 and $12 an hour.

"I would like to see our program have more funding, more support for the people that are giving our kids 100 percent of their life, their time, their care," Calleo said.

Her feelings are echoed by another mom who says ACHIEVE gives her son a purpose in life.

"It's a new world for him, he comes to ACHIEVE, he's learning to be independent, he's going to learn how to have jobs in the community," Mary Ann Egan said.

Thorn said parents and community members are supporting the initiatives by writing to legislators. ACHIEVE also has a petition up on their website at Click Here.

"We of course feel, for the vulnerable population we serve, that they sometimes can't advocate for themselves, and it's our job to do that for them," Thorn said. "Because when you can't advocate, sometimes it becomes very disadvantageous, and we don't want our programs to be comprised for those we serve."

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