A CENTURY OF SERVICE
Aurora of CNY has a long history of providing individual rehabilitation, support and employment services, along with professional Interpreter Referral Services through the Marjorie Clere Interpreter Referral Service. Aurora of CNY is the only area non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting independence and opportunity for people of all ages with vision or hearing loss.
1917: Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind was established to provide opportunities for people who were blind to be self-supporting. Federal legislation (the National Defense Act and Smith-Hughes Act) made funding available to provide vocational education through designated community agencies.
The creation of the organization was spearheaded by John C. Fowler. Blind from birth, he attended the New York State School for the Blind, graduated from Syracuse University in 1908 with honors in just three years. Mr. Fowler was described as a highly educated man who worked for Syracuse University as a piano tuner. He sought “to give employ to every blind man and woman in Syracuse who needs to work for a living, in order that none will be forced to beg.”
1920s: Under the direction of Executive Secretary Bertha McDowell Armstrong, the agency expanded its mission to provide employment and social opportunities for anyone in the community who was blind or visually impaired. A wide variety of items such as rugs, mats, wicker work, jigsaw puzzles, and towels were sold at community Christmas bazaars to help support the workshop.
1926: Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind, also known as “The Lighthouse,” began to receive Community Chest (United Way) funds and expanded its mission to serve anyone in the community who was blind or visually impaired. The Lighthouse was to become a community center for the blind, in which they may gather for social affairs with entertainment “which the can enjoy in spite of the fact they cannot see.”
1936: Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind established a layman’s committee composed of business and industrial leaders who will endeavor to further the employment of blind and partly blind persons. Ms. Armstrong also recommended that the organization form county auxiliary groups in various communities for the purpose of serving as contacting points between association services and blind persons in places outside of the city.
Mrs. Armstrong visited all blind persons in the county and made a complete record of each case, with a home teacher assigned to the Association by the New York State Commission for the Blind. Upon the basis of these findings, the Association, in cooperation with social and health agencies, will endeavor to meet special needs.
1941: Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind purchased a new home for the Lighthouse at 425 James Street to accommodate more space for workers and for demonstrations and social events. The Lighthouse “is truly a beacon for some 450 blind residents of Syracuse and Onondaga county” who receive employment or social aid from the agency.
1950s: In addition to selling workshop items made by blind workers, Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind often offered demonstrations of talking book machines, seeing-eye dogs, instruction in reading and writing of Braille, and advocacy for blind and handicapped workers.
1965: As the result of changing community attitudes and in response to a study commissioned by the Board of Directors, the Lighthouse’s sheltered workshop was merged with two other workshops to form Consolidated Industries of Greater Syracuse. Its social programs were merged into the Salvation Army’s Golden Age Center, as well.
1970: Executive Director Milton Rosenblum expands services into Cayuga, Oswego, Madison, and Cortland counties, offering more specialized direct services to individuals with vision loss including social work, instruction in adapted daily living skills (rehabilitation teaching) and safe and independent travel training (orientation and mobility).
1976: In the mid-1970’s, a study was conducted to identify the needs of members of the community who were Deaf. As a result, in 1976, The Central New York Association for the Hearing Impaired (CNYAHI) was established as a sister agency to the Lighthouse. There were two separate Boards of Directors and two separate program staffs, with a single shared administrative staff.
1979: CNYAHI established its Interpreter Referral Service, named after Marjorie Clere, a pioneering professional interpreter and advocate for the Deaf community, to meet the growing demand for high-level, qualified American Sign Language Interpreters.
1980: Both the Lighthouse and CNYAHI continued to expand programming throughout the 1980s in response to changes in the laws and the emerging needs of people in our community. The emphasis was then and is now to provide services that are personalized and enable individuals to remain in their homes, jobs, and school environments, living as independently as possible
1981: Summer Education Program for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children was added.
1991: AURORA of CNY is created through the merger of Syracuse Association of Workers for the Blind and the Central New York Association for the Hearing Impaired (CNYAHI).
During the 1990s, AURORA thrived in the challenging and changing human service environment expanding services in the counties of Cayuga, Onondaga, Oswego, and Northern Cortland to include: social work, employment services, orientation and mobility instruction, rehabilitation teaching, adaptive technology evaluation and training, low vision services, children’s instructional services, outreach and education, sign language instruction, and professional Sign Language Interpreting through the Marjorie Clere Interpreter Referral Services with a 14 upstate county reach).
These expansions were made possible through funding partnerships with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (now New York State Commission for the Blind), the United Ways of Central New York, Greater Oswego and Cayuga counties, Onondaga County Office for Aging, the Flora Bernice Smith and Berthe Harder Foundations, the New York State Community Foundation and the Gifford Foundation along with hundreds of corporate donors and individual members.
1994: Debra Chaiken joins AURORA of CNY as executive director. At that time, AURORA served about 900 clients in a five county area and had a $1.3 million annual budget. Under Chaiken’s leadership, the agency has grown to meet the needs of a wider audience of consumers and achieved financial stability in spite of turbulent and rapidly changing times.
1997: AURORA moved to its present location at 518 James Street
2001: The start of the new millennium brought with it a shift in community demographics and an increased demand for AURORA’s services, especially by those who are hard of hearing and visually impaired but not yet legally blind. Across the nation and in our community, 1 of 3 individuals over the age of 65 has a significant hearing loss and 1 out of 6 has a visual impairment. As a result, AURORA develops a comprehensive outreach and education program to reach people in the community who have never been served or supported for vision or hearing loss before.
2010: Adaptive technology “equals the playing field” for people with vision and hearing loss and provides vital safety and security for those we serve. The expense of this equipment is often very high and many have to do without. As a result, AURORA establishes a “Lending Closet” for adaptive equipment to provide flashing smoke alarms and other needed items.
2014: AURORA significantly expands programming to meet the needs of children and youth through several initiatives including the development of The Children’s Hearing Aid Program (CHAP). A pre-college skills program for students with vision loss and a youth and technology program for children with vision loss have been sustained through foundation support and donations from generous friends and benefactors.
2017: AURORA celebrates 100 years and is poised to embark on exciting new ventures as an affiliated partner with Liberty Resources, Inc. to significantly expand our service lines and integrate a total health and well-being approach to services for people of all ages with vision and hearing loss.
Today, AURORA’s services include: social work, employment services, orientation & mobility instruction, rehabilitation teaching, adaptive technology evaluation and training, low vision services, children’s instructional services, sign language instruction, as well as professional Sign Language Interpreting through the Marjorie Clere Interpreter Referral Services.
The demand for AURORA’s services continues to grow. As a result, we are committed to delivering the highest quality programs and services to meet the emerging needs of Central New Yorkers with vision and hearing loss.