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A Legacy of Caring, Devotion and Hope

Firm Foundations Laid in First Decade

JuniorLeague_52_300smallMany times, the greatest things start with humble, quiet beginnings. For Aspire of Western New York, a young mother planted the seeds that would soon grow into a legacy of caring, devotion and hope.

Sherwood Moss was born March 25, 1945, to Mr. and Mrs. David Moss. A year-and-a-half later, Sherwood was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. There was little assistance for the Moss family as they lovingly cared for their son. Mrs. Mary Moss was fortunate to have a group of friends in the Junior League of Buffalo – an educational and charitable women’s organization aimed at helping the community and promoting volunteerism – who wanted to help. Mary mobilized friends, family and other parents of children with cerebral palsy to form the Cerebral Palsy Association of Western New York on September 19, 1947.

Working together, the Cerebral Palsy Association and the Junior League began studying the problem of cerebral palsy. After a year and a half of study, an October 9, 1949, article from the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that the organizations had made significant progress in educating the community about cerebral palsy’s meaning and treatment methods, while also lobbying for state legislation. The organizations also realized there was no place in the community for young adults with cerebral palsy to meet together. They decided to establish a recreation program, said to be the first of its kind. Meeting space was donated by the Crippled Children’s Guild at 936 Delaware Avenue.

An article from the September 13, 1949, edition of The Buffalo Evening News vividly described what would be called the Young Adult Cerebral Palsy Center:

For the first time in their lives a group of young men and women are looking forward to a gay winter full of happy, interesting days. Accustomed to watching other boys and girls, these young people now are being offered a brand-new slice of living. They will go out at least one night a week for social recreation—go out wheelchairs and all. These young men and women are handicapped by cerebral palsy. (Statistics show that 95% of cerebral palsy happens at birth—so for nearly every member of this group it’s been a long time!)

Mrs. Howard M. Sharp, chairman of the Palsy Association, called the center’s opening a dream come true at its first meeting on September 23, 1949, according to the Courier-Express. She pointed out that one of the first treatment centers for young people with cerebral palsy was opened at Children’s Hospital just seven years before. Thomas O’Neill also spoke. He told attendees that the Palsy Association and the Junior League have “laid firm foundations upon which citizens of Buffalo can build a structure which will not only open the eyes of this country but may serve as a model to be copied by the entire world.”

Subsequently, the agency grew to include not only the recreation program, but also administrative offices, a preschool and a research library. Space was rented at the Variety Club Clinic, operated by Children’s Hospital at the Victorian mansion, 309 North Street. The preschool services expanded in 1952, when children ages three to seven could be enrolled. The children were transported to Children’s Hospital for therapeutic or medical services. In 1954, the agency purchased the Victorian mansion.

Things weren’t always easy, though. In 1958, the Community Chest experienced a pinch, and the budget did not provide adequate funding for the Cerebral Palsy Association, which was citing a need and desire to expand. The agency would search for additional sources of income.

The possible expansion was called a “giant step” by the Courier-Express on February 18, 1958:

Funds and a few other factors permitting, the Cerebral Palsy Assn. of Western New York may take a giant step in the near future in crossing the boundary lines suggested by its organizational name. The contemplated expansion would involve both a geographical extension of the scope of its services beyond the eighth judicial district and a concern for handicapped persons other than the cerebral palsied.

The announcement would prove to be extremely significant in the scope of the agency’s history. “The hope of a new building looms in the background of its thinking,” the article continues. “With the strides the agency has made to date, it’s a good bet it will all come about somehow.”

That bet certainly was a good one. Over the decades the agency’s scope expanded dramatically and people with any and all developmental disabilities came to take advantage of the innovative and comprehensive programs and services. By 2003, less than 35 percent of those served had cerebral palsy. The remaining individuals included those with mental retardation, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and other neurological conditions. In light of this, the agency felt a new name that more fully represented the spirit of the organization should be developed. On March 14, 2003, the agency became known as Aspire of Western New York.