Helene and Andrew Craner
In the early 1970s, when Andrew was five years old, his mother Helene Craner took him out of school because a visual processing disability was hindering his education. For months, Helene was unable to find a suitable school, so she tutored Andrew at home. At the time, there were no laws guaranteeing that students with disabilities received the services they needed to learn.
“The information and supports just weren’t there. The way parents found the assistance they needed was very haphazard,” Helene explained. She thought about how overwhelming it must be for parents who didn’t have the same access to services she had.
Helene knew two other New York City parents of children with disabilities — Karen Schlesinger and Tondra Lynford — whose sons went to the same school, and who felt the same way. Together, they sat in each other’s kitchens and built a vast network that included doctors, schools, and other parents. “With each other’s support and our network, none of us had to go it alone. It was a labor of love,” Helene said.
The three mothers wanted to share their work so it could benefit other families. In 1983, they opened the doors of Resources for Children with Special Needs (RCSN), now INCLUDEnyc.
The RCSN team amassed thousands of index cards full of information and contacts. They advocated for parents of children with disabilities, and taught these parents to advocate for themselves. They created a Special Camp Fair (now the INCLUDEnyc Fair) in the organization’s first year. Even in a blizzard, hundreds of parents attended. Clearly, they had hit upon a strong community need.
“Having the opportunity to go to camp with kids who have different disabilities was a great experience,” Andrew recalls, “and many parents who didn’t have the resources we had were left with no options.”
Over the years, INCLUDEnyc has grown to meet the changing times and evolving needs of families. The organization now reflects the diverse range of individuals and disabilities that make up our community. And while times are different, the need for equity, access, and love for young people with disabilities is not.
Thirty-five years later, Andrew is a court-appointed arbitrator, has been a practicing attorney for twenty years, and serves on a High School Mock Trial Program Committee coordinating statewide mock trial tournaments for high school students interested in pursuing careers in law. “I am grateful to my mom for her life’s work, and what I learned from it,” Andrew says. “It became our mission to make sure everybody had the information and skills they needed to advocate for their rights, and to pass those skills along to the next generation.”