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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Click the link to watch the video:

On June 23rd through June 26th, The Center for Discovery, in partnership with the 82nd Airborne Association - an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting members of the 82nd Airborne - hosted 20 service men and women for the first ever ‘All American Adventure.’ The inaugural event, inspired by The Center’s world-renowned model for health and wellness, was developed to help support and honor men and women who have recently returned home from service after nine month deployments in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The ‘All American Adventure’ program idea was initially developed through a request of the 82nd Airborne Division Association to pursue areas to assist the 82nd Airborne Division with the reintegration process of recently redeployed Troopers of the Division. The outstanding support provided by the Division’s Leadership, and their care for the welfare of their Soldiers, allowed for The Center for Discovery and the 82nd Airborne Division Association to make this program a success.  


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Members of the 82nd Airborne Association join with The Center for Discovery staff at the summit of Slide Mountain - the tallest peak in the Catskills.

Four-Day Event made Possible by Vera and Walter J. Scherr Foundation

HARRIS - The Center for Discovery, in partnership with the 82nd Airborne Association - an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting members of the 82nd Airborne - hosted 20 service- men and women for the first ever ‘All American Adventure' recently. The inaugural event, inspired by The Center's world-renowned model for health and wellness, was developed to help support and honor men and women who have recently returned home from service after nine-month deployments in Afghanistan and Kosovo. 

The ‘All American Adventure' program idea was initially developed through a request of the 82nd Airborne Division Association to pursue areas to assist the 82nd Airborne Division with the reintegration process of recently redeployed Troopers of the Division. The outstanding support provided by the Division's Leadership, and their care for the welfare of their soldiers, allowed for The Center for Discovery and the 82nd Airborne Division Association to make this program a success. The ‘All American Adventure' program was made possible by a generous gift from the Vera and Walter J. Scherr Foundation. 

Through decades of philanthropy and the publication of his award-winning autobiography, “Walter's Way”, Walter J. Scherr has made it his life's mission to commemorate the heroic service of individuals who have served in the armed forces of the United States. Mr. Scherr has continued his work honoring soldiers and caretakers by working with the 82nd Airborne Association to support its troops.  "We feel incredibly honored to have spent time with these young servicemen and women who have made enormous sacrifices for our country. They have each built a special bond with all of us here - our staff, our residents, and I - and we look forward to welcoming them back with open arms. They are selfless, dedicated, and courageous individuals and we are proud to know them," said Patrick H. Dollard, President & CEO of The Center for Discovery.

Throughout the four-day event, individuals participated in exciting athletic and outdoor adventure type experiences, among other activities at The Center, including: a boot camp class, a bike tour of The Center's campus with opportunities for interaction with Center residents, guided meditation, yoga, campfires, farm-fresh meals, and more. 

An additional portion of the event was held at Frost Valley YMCA, which included fly fishing, a hike up Slide Mountain, and an activity on their Y climbing tower and zip line. ​





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HARRIS, N.Y. — It takes innovation, passion, and a willingness to fiercely confront challenges head-on to have the level of impact The Center for Discovery is making.

A newly released economic impact study highlights how The Center for Discovery is improving the local and state economy, the fields of education, healthcare and research, and most of all, the lives of individuals with complex disabilities. Still Sullivan County’s largest employer, The Center has created more than $1 billion of economic impact for the State of New York between 2011 and 2016. The non-profit organization generates nearly $200 million of economic activity for the state each year, according to the report, entitled “Transforming Lives Through Research, Innovation & Economic Development.”

From just 25 employees in 1980, The Center has grown to 1,560 employees in 2016, and it pays an average compensation that is 33 percent higher than the average private sector wage in Sullivan County. The Center has invested $9 million over the last decade into the hamlet of Hurleyville’s downtown area, refurbishing small businesses and building the Hurleyville Maker’s Lab, Hurleyville Arts Centre and sidewalks to benefit the public as well as residents and students of The Center. Major philanthropy, government grants, infrastructure support and new businesses have all contributed to these revitalization efforts, and their success has created jobs, preserved land, improved the local economy, and enhanced the lives of students, residents, and the whole community.

“Disability care has been stifled by the historic bigotry of a system with almost nonexistent expectations for individuals with complex conditions to have a quality of life,” said Patrick H. Dollard, President and CEO of The Center for Discovery. “We challenge that. We believe all people can have a meaningful life. We use research, philanthropy, public-private partnerships and other innovations to continually build better lives for our residents and students. But the best part is that this is good for everyone- our research breakthroughs can assist people with any form of brain dysregulation, from dementia to normal aging. And the private philanthropy we’ve brought to our local community of Hurleyville have resulted in resources like the Hurleyville Arts Centre and the Hurleyville Maker’s Lab, which everyone benefits from.”

Among the highlights of the report:

  • The Center’s pioneering practices are internationally-recognized and have led to its designation as a New York State Center of Excellence;
  • The Center is uniquely positioned to conduct groundbreaking research that will improve health and learning outcomes for thousands of individuals with Autism and medical complexities worldwide;
  • The Center’s public-private partnerships have brought in significant external funds that would not otherwise have entered Sullivan County;
  • The Center’s Hurleyville revitalization initiatives serve as a model for how a prominent institution can play a leading role in economic redevelopment while creating more inclusive and supportive communities;
  • In 2016, The Center paid nearly $200,000 in direct property taxes while generating $9.9 million total state and local tax revenue;

The Center for Discovery is a provider of healthcare and education services for more than 1,200 children and adults with complex disabilities, medical frailties and Autism Spectrum Disorders, located 90 miles northwest of New York City. It has long been a leader in developing new models of care for individuals with complex conditions. On 1,500 acres of land in Sullivan County, The Center houses school campuses, residences, medical and research facilities, organic and biodynamic farmland, and leased private businesses. Deeply focused on an individual’s personal potential and possibilities, rather than a disability, The Center strives to create better care and opportunity for the most vulnerable populations.

Read the full report here: View Fullscreen

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By Daniel Axelrod
Times Herald-Record 

HURLEYVILLE – U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday that he and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have introduced bipartisan legislation to remove roadblocks to industrial hemp growth and production.

Schumer made the announcement at the Center for Discovery’s Michael Ritchie Big Barn Center for Environmental Health and Education in Hurleyville, where the Center is in its second year of a three-year hemp-growing trial.

Working with SUNY Sullivan, which has a state-issued permit to grow small amounts of hemp, the Center experimented last year on less than an acre to find the best practices for hemp production.

The bi-partisan Senate bill, supported by Sens. McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Schumer, and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, would:

* Remove industrial hemp as a federally classified Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin

* Empower states to choose whether to allow hemp growth and production

* Make states the principle regulators of hemp

* Permit hemp farmers to apply for crop insurance

* Allow hemp researchers to apply and compete for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants.

Little hemp is currently grown in New York, which also lacks production facilities, except for several dozen farms that have state exemptions to grow small amounts for research purposes, Schumer said.

Yet, there’s no reason for the prohibition, the senator added, given that hemp contains miniscule amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s principle psychoactive substance, and hemp can be used for a long list of industrial products from paper to bioplastics and fabric.

“It’s a crock,” said Schumer, who stressed the bipartisan nature of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which also has been introduced in the House. “It makes no sense that the DEA is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp.”

“Why are we buying hemp from other countries, when we have hundreds of acres that could be grown right here in our backyard?” Schumer said of the more than $600 million in hemp products the U.S. imports.

With hundreds of acres of hemp already authorized to be grown in the region for research purposes, Schumer thinks the mid-Hudson is poised for tremendous economic growth if the feds give New York the ability legalize hemp.

The state currently allows farmers in Sullivan County to grow more than 21 acres of hemp, 426 acres are permitted in Orange County, and seven acres are authorized in Ulster County.

“It couldn’t be a better product … and New York would benefit overnight” from growing hemp, said Patrick Dollard, the Center for Discovery’s president and CEO, who called on more study for the medicinal potential of cannabidiol, which comes from hemp oil.

SUNY Sullivan President Jay Quaintance agreed, adding that “the impact can be profound” for education and the economy if New York is allowed to legalize hemp.

Full article link:

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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.”


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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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