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A lifetime of learning and support: Wildwood Programs

Wildwood Programs, an organization in the Capital-Saratoga Region, helps more than 1,000 people of all ages with various developmental disabilities each year, and among them is Glenn Crast. Crast, 27, has spent nearly his entire life affiliated with the organization. At the age of three his parents and grandmother enrolled him in the Wildwood School, where he learned in small classroom settings with lots of one-on-one attention from teachers, and graduated in 2010. During the summers, he attended Camp Wildwood for its summer extension program where students camp out, go swimming and learn in a camp atmosphere. “I wish I could have stayed longer,” says Crast, reflecting on fond memories of classmates, field trips, music lessons and a supportive learning environment. Wildwood caters to a wide range of disabilities, including Autism, complex learning disabilities and other neurological disorders. About one in six children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet even with such prevalence, many people suffer without support. Wildwood Programs addresses that need through a broad set of services: ●      Education ●      Family and Community Services ●      Employment Services ●      Residential Services ●      Day Habilitation ●      Recreation Wildwood was founded in 1967 by parents who were frustrated at the lack of educational opportunities for their developmentally disabled children. “[We offer] just about anything you can think of for a person’s needs, maybe with the exception of medical care, and we can coordinate that,” says Tom Schreck, Wildwood’s director of communications. Wildwood School, perhaps the Programs’ most well-known entity, is a nonprofit private school with two locations: Elementary, intermediate and high school students are at the main building in Schenectady and the young adult school in Latham. There are 220 students enrolled from about 60 different school districts. Some students travel from as far away as Schoharie and Queensbury, distances of approximately 30 and 45 miles, respectively. Students are referred to Wildwood by their home school districts that pay the bill and transport them to and from school each day. Each classroom has a certified teacher and teaching assistants. There are also speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists available to meet with students. With nearly a 1-to-1 ratio of staff to students, according to Schreck, Wildwood can provide more personal attention to in the classroom than other schools.

While most schools dismiss in June for students to start vacation, Wildwood’s students continue learning through its summer extension program. Some go to Camp Wildwood in Altamont to enjoy its clubhouse, lean-tos, swimming pool, pond and walking trails. They have the same learning goals as they do during the regular school year, such as pro-social and communication skill acquisition and development, but with a different approach in a camp setting. Other students who would have a challenging time in that environment remain in their regular school.

Once students graduate, Wildwood works with them to find employment. Because students have such a broad range of disabilities, the jobs are diverse. Some work in food service, some as custodians and others for the State of New York in technical and clerical positions, mostly located in Albany.

Crast works four days a week as a dishwasher at Panera Bread in East Greenbush. He enjoys working there because of the people and the benefits. This is the ideal scenario for Wildwood: its graduate has a job and the employer adds a worker.

Boasting an 80 percent placement rate for its clients, Wildwood strives for the right match between employee and employer, said Josh Muchmore, director of employment services.

Crast’s employment specialist at Wildwood is Chris Chadwick, who had been his teacher’s assistant in school a decade ago. In addition to their work relationship, they talk about sports — Crast roots for the New York Yankees and the New England Patriots. Chadwick regularly communicates with Crast and Panera’s management to make sure things are going smoothly.

Chadwick has 20-25 clients whom he helps with job development, working with them to discover their interests and skills, teaching how to write resumes and cover letters, finding suitable jobs and then supporting them once they are hired.

“It’s [about] being able to recognize each individual for the person that they are, not the person that other people would like them to be,” says Chadwick, who has been an employment specialist for the past seven years.

Still, even with Wildwood’s commitment to serving people with developmental disabilities, it is always threatened by State budget cuts. In 2013, Wildwood held a press conference flanked by both the families who they serve and elected officials to stop potential cuts to their funding.

“What was impressive to me last year and as we were facing these cuts in funding was their ability to marshal the troops,” says Assemblyman John McDonald III of the 108th District. “There is truly a lot of love built up between the community and Wildwood.”

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