The Center For Discovery

At The Center for Discovery, people with disabilities work hard to find a way forward as they shape lives of meaning.

The supports we offer are grounded in the land and our community of care and education, which for many years has integrated food and farming, science and research, and health and wellness.

We are a vibrantly successful program that encourages people with intellectual and physical challenges to defy expectations, while simultaneously evolving new models for living.

What happens here matters everywhere.

  

Walter J. Scherr is a highly successful international businessman who overcame many obstacles through persistence, honor, and commitment. He grew up during the depression in Ozone Park, Queens, was diagnosed with tuberculosis at a young age and then quarantined at a large sanitarium for a number of years. Walter never forgot what it meant to be removed from society because of a disability nor the compassionate care that he received from his caregivers.

Walter was first introduced to The Center by his respected surgeon, Dr. George Todd, who invited him to tour the agency’s advanced programs and facilities. In response to what he witnessed and the high quality of care provided, Walter established the Vera and Walter Scherr Scholarship Program to provide financial assistance to Center staff looking to pursue an advanced degree or continuing professional education/certification. This innovative program not only served to assist The Center by enhancing its workforce, but also provided the means to honor caregivers and recognize those who committed themselves to the caring profession.

More recently, Walter and the Scherr Family have gone on to champion the development of a Maker’s Lab and Learning Center featuring the use of such technologies as 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC routers. In this environment, the engineering, artistic and design talents of people in the larger community will be joined with the specialized skills of The Center’s long-established Advanced Rehabilitation Technology Design group. Their objective: to create and encourage new technologies and devices that assist people with special needs, disabilities and age-related conditions – and share them with the world.

Learn More About Walter’s Life Through His Book: Walter’s Way

See Article About Walter in the Wall Street Journal

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As Aevary Kiernan belted out “Circle of Life” with her classmates during The Center for Discovery’s three-show run of “The Lion King,” there was hardly a dry eye in the room. For her mother, Jill Kiernan, it was an especially emotional moment.

Aevary grew up asking her parents when she would get a chance to participate in a school performance like her brother and his friends. She watched others act in school plays, compete in sporting events and dance in recitals. It broke her mother’s heart that the 13-year-old didn’t have the same opportunities.

But all that changed when Aevary began attending school at The Center for Discovery last summer. Aevary travels more than an hour each way to the specialty center that is internationally recognized for its innovative education and treatment program for children and adults with complex disabilities, medical frailties and Autism Spectrum Disorders. With The Center’s whole-person, whole-community approach, a diverse team of professionals come together to incorporate music, dance and recreation therapies along with the more traditional occupational, physical and speech therapies.

Aevary’s life was truly changed the day she came home, grinning from ear to ear, holding a letter about auditions for “The Lion King,” her mother said. The young Rafiki would jump out of bed on rehearsal days, and enthusiastically engage in conversation with others about her upcoming play.

Over the seven years since The Center for Discovery began its drama program, Senior Director of Music Therapy Conio Loretto, who directed “The Lion King” and The Center’s previous three shows, said drama has become one of The Center’s most successful therapeutic tools. Between productions, the music therapy department along with a multidisciplinary team offers drama classes, to teach everything from acting to stage directions.

A general audience may take for granted all the little things that go into putting on a performance, said Rachel Chaiet, production manager and occupational therapist at The Center. The students and adult residents at The Center for Discovery face a wide range of challenging and complex disabilities. Some of the teens and adults have sensory challenges that make it hard for them to adjust to lighting changes or have makeup applied to their faces. It is important for performers to follow directions, maintain focus and be flexible when things don’t go according to plan, but this can be a significant challenge for many of those who participated in The Lion King.

Those challenges are why many students like Aevary, in other educational settings, never get the chance to participate in activities. But recreation therapist Erin Atkins said that at The Center, staff simply assess the areas in which a student is successful, and create opportunities around their skill set and interests. The script and costumes were adapted for the actors, but the whole experience of the play was just like any other school production. And everyone’s expectations were blown away.

“Because we’re raising the bar for them, they meet it,” Chaiet said.

The acting was professional, and no detail was overlooked in the production’s performance and design, Jill Kiernan said. But it went further than that.

“One thing that really impressed me was seeing how these kids helped one another, and cheered each other on,” Kiernan said. “There was no sense of competition, but a strong sense of camaraderie.”

Drama teaches students empathy and social skills, Loretto said, as they explore their character, learn to help each other with lines and build meaningful friendships, both on- and offstage. Those skills and characteristics may not always stand out to an audience, Loretto said, but the students have grown in so many ways through their experience.

“I think that’s the biggest compliment, if you’re watching our shows and you don’t understand what it took to get us there,” Loretto said. “That’s what we want.”

This show was a whole-community effort. Staff, students and residents from every department at The Center for Discovery pitched in, building sets and designing costumes. The Hurleyville Maker’s Lab, a public space for innovation and creation, helped design and build props and costumes. The Maker’s Lab Director Mark McNamara taught the production crew how to use lab equipment like the laser cutter, helping Atkins and her team create stunning wildlife props.

Coming together around this type of production is all part of helping the individuals at The Center be their best selves and live their best lives, Loretto said. He would like to see some of his actors find opportunities to act in the community in the future. Students like Aevary, and all those on stage during The Lion King, are proof of how life-changing it can be to provide an opportunity.

“It’s always been my philosophy that you follow where the work takes you,” Loretto said. “And if this is what the kids need, then this is what we provide for them.”

SEE THE MUSIC VIDEO HERE: https://youtu.be/WLWM-EqdDG0

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The creativity and collaboration at the heart of The Center for Discovery were on full display  as clinicians and educators gathered for the annual SEED talks at the Michael Ritchie Big Barn Center for Environmental Health, Education and Research.

The SEED (Synergistic, Experiential, Evidence-based, Discoveries) talks were created in 2012 as a way for staff to share their innovations and current projects with each other. What began as a clinician-only event has spread to this year including more than 100 staff members, from occupational therapists and teachers to farmers and dance therapists. With such a big staff spread across varying departments and campuses at TCFD, Manager of Clinical Innovation and Special Projects Jason Kean wanted to design an event that would enhance communication across disciplines and reinforce the collaboration that already happens on its own at The Center every day. It’s certainly working, Kean said – the content of the 15-minute talks presented by staff are of the highest quality, and each year the event becomes more inspirational.

Senior Director of Music Therapy Conio Loretto has presented a SEED talk each year, and he said the day serves as a vehicle to share the innovation and creativity happening at The Center, and be inspired by it.

“It celebrates the collaborative spirit that is The Center,” Loretto said.

This year, Loretto presented a talk with a teacher and a behavior specialist who shared their team effort in using music to help a student regulate his emotions. As they played video of the student singing songs he wrote in order to calm himself down, other staff were moved to tears.

It was the first year the SEED talks were held on a teacher conference day, so the entire teaching staff could participate in the event. It’s so beneficial, Education Director Jeff Bordeman said, because teachers get so focused on what’s happening in their personal classroom that they don’t have a chance to see their work as a piece of what’s going on across the whole Center. Teachers got to see things they hadn’t thought of, Bordeman said, and now they have fresh ideas to try in their own classrooms.

It’s all about inspiring that creativity in order to come up with the ideas that will help The Center’s students and residents most, said Nicole Kinney, Chief of Clinical Services.

“It’s a culture, really, of ‘I have a cool idea, it’s going to be supported,’” Kinney said. “I think that drives people to want to do more.”

Christine Ertola and Sherma Williams, co-directors of the Therapeutic Dance Department, helped present their team’s work in using dance choreography and music to teach students how to complete farming tasks like weeding, raking and feeding the pigs. When Williams told her they had been asked to help the farm team, Ertola said her first reaction was that they didn’t know anything about farming, and dance and farming didn’t belong together. But they quickly realized they had exactly the expertise needed to teach unfamiliar body movements. Soon enough they were dancing in the fields.

“We’ve done a lot of different things, but this one was definitely out of the box,” Williams said.

Sometimes there’s risk involved in trying a new technique, Loretto said, but The Center knows how to take creative risks that pay off. The SEED talks show that.

“They represent the risks we take here, to try something new and go down whatever path the work is taking us,” Loretto said.

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HARRIS, N.Y. — A cookbook collaboration between New York City Italian Chef Cesare Casella and The Center for Discovery CEO Patrick H. Dollard has been recognized with an international book award.

“Feeding the Heart: Recipes, Flavors and the Seed to Belly Philosophy of the Department of Nourishment Arts” received a gold award in the category of Best Adult Non-Fiction Informational E-Book in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY Awards).

“Feeding the Heart” shares dozens of delicious whole foods recipes, as well as stories about how The Center for Discovery’s “Food is Medicine” philosophy brings together farmers, chefs and nutritionists to cultivate a food program that promotes health, healing and quality of life among students and residents who all have complex disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders and medical frailties. Casella serves as chief of The Center’s Department of Nourishment Arts, and Dollard has led the nonprofit for more than 30 years. The book shares emotional stories about caretaking, food and farming, and gives insights into the passion behind the work at The Center for Discovery.

The IPPY Awards are the world’s largest international and regional book awards competition. The annual awards contest seeks to bring increased recognition to thousands of exemplary independent-, university- and self-published titles. This year’s contest drew 5,000 entries for 117 categories. The winning books create an excellent and diverse reading list for those exploring ways to solve the world’s problems, Independent Publisher said in announcing the list of winners.

Cesare Casella is an acclaimed New York chef and restaurateur known for the ever-present rosemary sprouting from his shirt pocket. As Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center, Casella’s Tuscan roots have guided him through a career that celebrates simplicity and quality of ingredients. His newest venture is Casella’s Salumi Speciali, where he makes salumi from American raised rare-breed heritage pigs in Hurleyville, NY, near The Center for Discovery. Casella has written several other books, including “True Tuscan” and “The Fundamental Techniques of Italian Cooking,” and he was the man behind celebrated New York restaurants Beppe, Maremma and Salumeria Rosi.

The Center for Discovery is a residential, educational and research facility in Sullivan County, NY, recognized internationally for providing highly innovative and effective care for people with complex disabilities, as well as advancing medical research in the field. Hundreds of students and adults come to The Center from across New York and other states for education and healthcare. The Center’s Department of Nourishment Arts manages Thanksgiving Farm, the site of 150 acres of certified organic and biodynamic farmland that produces more than 60 types of vegetables, flowers and herbs, and is home to egg-laying hens, beef cattle, pigs and sheep. Thanksgiving Farm feeds all The Center’s residents as well as many of its 1,500-member staff, and brings healthy food into the community through its 300-member Community Supported Agriculture program.

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