The new Golisano Autism Center breaking ground this fall launches 24-hour help line and other services this summer

ROCHESTER — After the disappearance and death of a Rochester City School District student this past March, lead partners behind the planned Golisano Autism Center held an urgent meeting.

Trevyan Rowe, 14, a boy with autism, wandered away from school after getting off of his school bus March 8. His body was found the following Sunday in the Genesee River. The tragedy drove home the desperate need for services for those with autism — a condition affecting more than 10,000 people in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area.

Among those putting their heads together for an immediate response were Golisano Autism Center partners Al Sigl Community of Agencies, AutismUp, CP Rochester, and the Golisano Foundation. These founding members of the Golisano Autism Center, which is breaking ground this fall, decided on a dedicated, 24-hour-a day helpline, which will go live on July 1. To be staffed by trained professionals, the helpline will guide individuals and their families to find services and programs in the community.

Also, based at the Boys and Girls Club on Genesee Street in Rochester, a “family autism navigator” will be a parent of a child with autism who has received specialized training. That person will provide provide one-on-one advice and support to families and others facing the challenges of autism. That parent is now being recruited and will be in place in late summer, according to the Golisano Autism Center team.

Meanwhile, the new Golisano Autism Center is set to break ground this fall on South Avenue near Science Parkway in Rochester. It will bring together a wide array of coordinated services and expertise under one roof. The center will not replace the brick-and-mortar sites, such as Happiness House in Geneva and Canandaigua, that offer autism programs. But the center aims to make it easier for families to get all the care and expertise they need in one place.

The goal of the Golisano Autism Center is to serve 10,000 people with autism throughout the region. The center will include shared program spaces, a sensory gym, classrooms, therapy rooms and more. It is expected to open in fall 2019.

“The Golisano Autism Center will play a vital role” in delivering services for more than 10,000 individuals with autism, said Mary Walsh Boatfield, president and CEO of Happiness House and CP Rochester, and board chair of the Golisano Autism Center.

She explained that the center will be the first of its kind, to become the national standard for how those with autism and their families can more easily access supports and services.

“The Golisano Autism Center will support children and adults with autism and will provide services that are educational, therapeutic, social and recreational in nature, and include a Family Autism Navigator who will assist families with accessing services,” Boatfield said. “We would like this candidate to be a parent of a child with autism who can provide support and facilitate the connections to the community needed to individuals with autism, caregivers, parents, and their families. Recruitment for this position has already begun through AutismUp.”

She also talked about the helpline that will provide information and referrals. Those staffing the helpline will be trained specialists, to help residents understand how to access a variety of services in the communities of the Rochester/Finger Lakes.

The new Center will be named for Paychex Inc. founder B. Thomas Golisano, a philanthropist and Golisano Foundation chairman. Golisano is making a challenge grant of $2.5 million to help build the center. The first major gift toward the challenge, of $500,000, came from the Golisano Foundation.

“The Golisano Autism Center is making progress towards its $7 million fundraising goal,” said Boatfield.