Birch Family Services, a provider of education and support for people with autism and developmental disabilities, recently held a gala to honor its 45 years of work in the community.
Birch has locations throughout the five boroughs, including the Pelham Bay Early Childhood Center, Riverdale Early Childhood Center and Soundview Early Childhood Center.
Prior to the celebration, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio both praised Birch for its role in improving the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.
“All New Yorkers are proud to join in saluting the organization and extend our gratitude for treating each person as an individual with their own unique abilities and helping them lead fulfilling lives no matter their pursuits,” Cuomo said.
Birch was founded by Phyllis Susser in 1975 when she opened the Herbert G. Birch School for Exceptional Children in Queens to ensure that the mission of the newly enacted Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was fulfilled and students with disabilities were given a free education.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who attended two reading hours at Pelham Bay Early Childhood Center, also heaped praise on Birch.
“For 45 years, you have led the way in dignified, exceptional education and ongoing care for a community that is too often marginalized,” she said in a letter to Birch. “Each of you and your commitment to empowering your students and their families, to leading with compassion and hope, and to centering the people you work to support, have created a collective that has changed — and will continue to change — the world for so many. This is not just a landmark for the staff, but a moment to celebrate the over 20,000 participants throughout the years who have come to you with needs that are complex and nuanced, and who have found the strength and dedication to pursue their self-defined quality of life to its fullest potential.”