♥  You can make a difference for children and adults who have disabilities – donate today!  ♥

High Contrast

Starbridge is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2015 Community Awards. 


Their stories are below. Please join us at our Celebration of Champions, on Saturday, November 14, to meet and congratulate these remarkable individuals!


Community Impact Award - Sarah Jane Clifford

Sarah Jane Clifford

The Community Impact Award honors an individual or organization creating inclusive opportunities for people who have disabilities. We are pleased to bestow this year’s award on Sarah Jane Clifford, owner and operator of Gymnastics Training Center of Rochester.

Sarah Jane Clifford has owned and operated the Gymnastics Training Center, located in Penfield, for nearly 30 years. The Center provides gymnastics instruction, ballet and dance instruction through its prestigious Botsford School, and a preschool program. More than 2,000 students, from ages 1 to 74, participate in the Center’s programs each year.

James and Mary Holleran nominated Sarah Jane for the work she has done to create opportunities for children who have disabilities throughout the community, as well as for their own daughter, Katie.

In 1989, Sarah Jane took a call from the mother of Paula Gregorio, an aspiring gymnast who also has disabilities. As it happens, Sarah Jane had recently taken a seminar to learn about gymnastics instruction for children who have disabilities and had intended to develop a class for children who have developmental disabilities. Sarah Jane’s opportunity to apply her new knowledge arrived sooner than expected, but she gladly took on the challenge.

As other parents found out about this new class, enrollment grew. Sarah Jane called Monroe County Special Olympics and received sanctioning to start a training club. Sarah Jane made sure the club members could compete in local, regional, and state tournaments, even if she had to drive them there herself. She even flew athletes to national meets in Dallas and Atlanta. Today, about 20 athletes train and compete out of the Penfield facility at no charge. Sarah Jane pays the coaches, and if a child can’t afford to travel to a meet, Sarah Jane will help cover their costs.

Jim and Mary Holleran are tremendously grateful to Sarah Jane. “Her commitment hasn’t wavered throughout the 20-plus years that our daughter, Katie, has competed out of the Gymnastics Training Center. Sarah Jane isn’t the only reason for Katie’s success, but she is a prominent contributor who instills confidence, instructs on athletic and life skills, and teaches young athletes to pursue their dreams.”

Sarah Jane is also starting a dance troupe for children with special needs. The Center’s website reflects Sarah Jane’s Clifford’s philosophy:
“We believe that all children deserve the opportunity to participate in this wonderful sport of gymnastics... Here at GTC, we look at disabilities as possibilities. We welcome all athletes, of all ages, sizes and abilities and provide them with an opportunity to excel.... We truly believe in the happiness, growth and strength of all children, both in gym and at home.”

Please join us in congratulating Sarah Jane Clifford as we honor her with the Community Impact Award.

Education Award - Stephanie Scism

The Education Award honors a devoted individual in the field of education whose extraordinary efforts empower students who have disabilities to succeed. We are pleased to recognize Stephanie Scism, Instructional Specialist at Monroe #1 BOCES, with the 2015 Education Award.

An educator for more than 14 years, Stephanie began supporting students who have disabilities as an aide in the BOCES Preschool Program at East Rochester Elementary School. She continued on to become a Teacher in the ABA Preschool Program, and then in district-based 8:1:1 classrooms in elementary schools in Webster and Pittsford.Stephanie Scism and student

As nominator Julie Buick noted, “Stephanie’s scope of impact cannot be measured by numbers. Not only has she directly impacted hundreds of students who have disabilities through her commitment to teaching, she has also left a lasting impression on hundreds of teachers, administrators, and students through her efforts around inclusion. Stephanie didn’t ask, ‘Can we do it?’ Her attitude is ‘We are going to do it.’”

Julie relayed stories about the tremendous impact Stephanie’s work had for Julie’s sons, Billy and Bobby, both of whom have Fragile X and Autism.

“With Stephanie’s enthusiasm and encouragement, Billy overcame his social anxiety through a child-directed plan which incorporated the support of a classroom of students who were a grade higher. These students would come down full of excitement each day and invite Billy to lunch. Not long after, other kids began greeting Billy, giving him high fives, big smiles, and wanting to be his friend. For the first time since his school career began, he felt like he truly belonged.”Stephanie Scism and student

Julie continues, “Bobby, although charming and larger than life, presented a challenge behaviorally and needed a strong teacher who could provide consistency, patience, and high expectations.” Stephanie and her team eagerly rose to the challenge and made changes to the environment, instruction, and demands to better meet Bobby’s needs. Julie says, once they began to see huge improvements both behaviorally and academically, “Stephanie let me know it was time to push for more inclusion. That year, for the first time, Bobby was included. Just like his brother, Bobby too felt what it was like to truly be accepted just the way you are.”

As a classroom teacher, Stephanie worked hard to meet the needs of all of her students. She provided an environment with structure, consistency, and acceptance. She continues to be a lifelong learner on behalf of her students. She believes in students and the schools she works in, pushing comfort levels while working collaboratively with administration and colleagues.

Last year, Stephanie shifted her role and became an Instructional Specialist at Monroe #1 BOCES. She now shares her methods and experiences with teachers throughout the area, which benefits a larger student population than she could reach in one classroom.

Please join us in thanking Stephanie Scism for her efforts in empowering students who have disabilities to succeed.

Founders Award - Patricia Muir

Patricia Muir

The Founders Award honors a parent or family member of an individual with a disability who exemplifies our founders’ commitment through his or her efforts to improve the quality of life for people who have disabilities. This year, we are pleased to recognize Patricia Muir.

Pat has been advocating on the behalf of individuals who have disabilities for 32 years, beginning with her son Nate, who has autism. As nominator Mary Ellen Carpino wrote, "Pat has worked tirelessly to provide Nate with the best care possible and to make sure he has the opportunities and supports he needs to live the most meaningful, productive and happy life possible."

Many parents worry about the supports and services that will be available for their children as they age, and once they are no longer around to provide care. New York State has a critical lack of supervised or supported housing options currently, particularly as the State shifts from institutional care to community-based living settings.

In the true spirit of advocacy, Pat recognized that she was not alone in her concern for her son’s welfare, and that there had to be many parents just as worried – and just as passionate about wanting to see the right things happen. So she founded Family Advocates United, a collaborative group to unite family advocacy groups throughout the Finger Lakes and Western NY regions. Members come from AutismUp, Developmental Disability Alliance of Western NY, Family Advocates of Heritage Christian Services, Lifetime Assistance Family & Friends, Holy Childhood, Mary Cariola, Managing Autism Together Today (MATT), and Starbridge.

Their goal is to support the enactment of all legislation mandating supports and services critical to the needs of people who have intellectual / developmental disabilities and their families who care for them. And, as has been proven over and over again, where one voice might be drowned out, a group will not be silenced easily.

If you have read a newspaper or watched the news anytime in the last couple of years, you have likely seen stories about housing needs for adults who have developmental or intellectual disabilities. In many of those pieces, Pat Muir is quoted, speaking out for her family, for many families. You may have seen Facebook posts and news stories about the flag rallies, where hundreds of yellow flags with the words “Still Waiting” are planted in the ground, one for every individual who is still waiting for a safe, supportive living option to open up. Pat and the members of Family Advocates United keep working to make sure policymakers and the public don’t lose sight of this need.

Pat is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, a well-respected advocate across the state, and a devoted mother, wife, grandmother, and friend.

Pat exemplifies our founders’ conviction that there can be better options for our loved ones. She is tireless in her efforts to make those options real opportunities.

As Jackie Yingling noted, “Pat is persistent and patient. She knows how to get her message across and develops positive working relationships with legislators, community agencies, families, and individuals. She is making the world a better place.”

Pat, it is our privilege to recognize you with the 2015 Founders Award.

Self Advocacy Award - Julie Whittemore

Julie Whittemore

The Self Advocacy Award honors a person who has a disability who leads the direction of his or her daily life through advocacy, personal choice, and responsibility. We are pleased to recognize Julie Whittemore with the 2015 award.

Life with a disability can be challenging, even with the best of supports around, but for a person who hasn’t been evaluated or diagnosed, who is searching for an explanation but not finding one, life can be more difficult still.

As a child, Julie did not always fit in well with peers in school. Her poor coordination led to struggles in PE classes. Her behaviors led to teasing by others. Her social skills delays led to difficulties relating with other students. In spite of all of this, Julie stood out academically, received many academic awards, and was well-liked by school staff.

As a teen, continued bullying and lack of social supports resulted in Julie developing a serious eating disorder. Her still-undiagnosed disability interfered with her ability to distinguish sensations and to communicate with others what was wrong. She reached out to school staff for support, and managed to continue with her studies.

After graduating from high school, Julie enrolled in Utica College, where she blossomed. She participated in the college choir and reported for the school paper. She also became active in the Central New York Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, because she thought what she was experiencing was OCD. Although college offered a more accepting group of peers, Julie continued to struggle with interpersonal skills and behaviors. Finally, with the help of the Utica College Counseling Center, Julie was referred to local autism specialists who evaluated her and diagnosed her with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After a youth spent wondering why she struggled to fit in and why she felt so sensitive to her environment, this diagnosis changed Julie’s life. Armed with the right information, Julie was able to understand herself better and to express herself better.

Julie graduated with a BA in Spanish, and joined AmeriCorps VISTA, a national volunteer program dedicated to mitigating poverty. Julie moved to Niagara Falls to serve at Community Missions of Niagara Frontier. There she develops programming and resources for local youth in the juvenile justice and mental health systems, many of whom also have developmental disabilities. Julie recently received an award from the Health Association of Niagara County for her work with youth. She enjoys being a full-time volunteer and being able to advocate for others, especially children and those who have disabilities. She is an active member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Nominator Esther King wrote, “Julie is an inspiration. She works extremely hard not to let autism stand in the way of her career in social services. I believe the hardships she has overcome in searching for her diagnosis and her dedication to community service make her especially deserving of recognition.”

Julie, you are a model of self advocacy, and we are so pleased to be able to honor you with this award.

Youth Award - Jack Milko

Jack Milko

The Youth Award honors an individual, age 21 or younger, whose efforts make a positive difference in the lives of people who have disabilities. This year’s winner is Jack Milko.

Jack’s first introduction to disabilities came about when his younger brother Theodore was diagnosed with autism. As a family, the Milkos began looking for support, which they found in UNYFEAT, now known as AutismUp. Jack tagged along to Teddy’s programs, participated in Sib Shops, and helped his family raise money to support the organization.

Nominator Beth Ciardi notes that, with Teddy, “Jack instinctively became one of Teddy’s greatest therapists, his favorite playmate, one of his strongest advocates, and his best friend.” As Jack entered his teen years, he became one of AutismUp’s most valuable program volunteers, directly supporting Teddy and his peers. Jack’s mother, Sarah, now serves as Executive Director of AutismUp.

Beth Ciardi wrote, “Jack has humbly chosen to turn his family’s struggle into his purpose, and is determined to be a part of ensuring Teddy and others lead happy, healthy, and successful lives. Jack is proud of the uniqueness of his family and encourages his friends to see beyond the disability and embrace the positive side of being different.”

Jack has enjoyed playing basketball for years, and wanted to find a way for Teddy and others to learn to play basketball and share in the experience of being part of a team. With his father’s help, Jack led the effort to create AutismUp’s basketball program last year. Jack recruited student volunteers from McQuaid and Mercy High Schools to support participants in the basketball program as they learn ball skills and game strategy along with team social skills. Many of these teen volunteers assist with other programs, including the iCan Bike camp.

Jack is currently in his senior year at McQuaid Jesuit High School. He is a High Honor Roll student, an active participant in extracurricular organizations and sports teams, and a founder of the McQuaid Sports Network where he is a play-by-play analyst. Jack is currently waiting on college acceptance letters in hopes of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sports broadcasting and journalism.

Jack, we are proud to honor you for the work you are doing to make a positive difference in the lives of people who have disabilities.

Outstanding Community Partner Award - Adam Anolik

Adam AnolikThe Outstanding Community Partner Award honors an individual or organization who has demonstrated generous and sustained support of the work of organizations like Starbridge. The 2015 recipient of this award is Adam Anolik.

In his professional life, Adam serves as the Chief Financial Officer for Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals and Associate Vice President of University of Rochester Medical Center. Prior to joining URMC, Adam served as Senior Vice President and CFO of St. Mary’s Hospital, and later as Vice President of Finance and Internal Services at Planned Parenthood.

Adam and his wife Jennifer are the proud parents of two daughters, Ellie and Sarah. As parents, Adam and Jennifer have worked to make sure their daughters both had opportunities to choose productive paths towards fulfilling lives. Their younger daughter Sarah has graduated from Boston University, and is now living and working in New York City. Their older daughter Ellie, after graduating from the LifePrep at Nazareth program in May of this year, is now on a new journey at the Community Arts Connection, a program through the Arc of Monroe. In August of 2014, Ellie moved into her new house, which she shares with two roommates and a very cute Siamese cat. Adam had this to say, “Although her transitions are not without challenges, Ellie is someone who always has a smile on her face and endears herself to anyone she comes in contact with. As Ellie’s parents, we are extremely proud and humbled by how she has become a truly independent young woman.”

Ellie’s journey to independence is thanks in part to the strong circle of support Adam and Jennifer helped her assemble. The Anoliks first encountered The Advocacy Center through the program Creating A Life after High School. As Adam recalls, “Since that time, Ellie really lives one of the lessons she was taught, namely ‘Nothing about me without me.’ We strongly feel that it is not only up to us as parents to plan for Ellie’s future but that she has a center seat when we discuss her next endeavor.”

Adam also insists that others be recognized for their part in supporting Ellie. Ellie’s many transitions over the past year have been facilitated by the work of Ursula Nicholson (Ellie’s Service Coordinator) and Janet Austin (Ellie’s broker), who have been part of Ellie’s team for many years. Ursula Nicholson said, “Adam is a great advocate and passionate about his daughter’s needs. Adam is also very passionate about our agency and ways the community can see the good that we are doing.”

Adam joined the Board of Directors of The Advocacy Center several years ago and continues on the Board of Starbridge today. He is an active philanthropist on behalf of our agency and other community initiatives, including the Developmental Disabilities Giving Circle of the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

As a Board member, Adam has set the bar high. As Allyn Stelljes shared, “One way that Adam stands out is his ability to bring others on board, as board members, donors, event sponsors, and supporters. Adam has a great way of communicating our mission and vision and getting others excited about it, too.”

Joyce Steel summed up what we appreciate about Adam. “Adam leads with compassion, a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He walks the talk – he is respectful and kind to everyone he meets. Some time ago, I heard this quote and it made me think of Adam: ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, become more, you are a leader.’ Adam personifies what it truly means to be a leader, a humanitarian, a father, husband, friend and all-around great guy.”

Please join us in honoring Adam Anolik for his outstanding support.