Helen Keller center celebrates 50th anniversary

Helen Keller center celebrates 50th anniversary
State Sen. Elaine Phillips (center) recently visited the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in Sands Point to present a resolution from the NYS Senate congratulating HKNC on its 50th anniversary (Photo courtesy of HKNC).

Sands Point’s Helen Keller National Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year by holding several events to raise awareness of deaf-blindness.

“We work with youth and adults across the country who are interested in gaining skills for employment and independence,” Susan Ruzenski, the executive director of HKNC, said.

The not-for-profit center was authorized by Congress in 1967 and provides training and resources for people over age 16 who have combined vision and hearing loss. The organization has 11 regional offices, but the Sands Point location is the national center and provides the most in-depth training, Ruzenski said.

“The vocational program is the centerpiece of the training but we offer skills training in assistive technology, orientation and mobility, communication skills, alternative ways such as sign language, tactile sign language, braille, use of communication cards,” Ruzenski said. Students of HKNC work with a team with services tailored to their individual needs, she said.

HKNC serves up to 100 people a year on the Sands Point campus, with up to 30 people living there at any one time, Ruzenski said. Nationally HKNC serves 1,500 people a year. HKNC alumni go on to careers in various fields, such as computer programming, physical therapy, film scoring, education and local government, she added.

“We have relationships with about 75 employers, and many of them are here in Port Washington, some are a little bit of a distance on Long Island but we try to make sure that we’re following the person’s interests, so if we don’t have anything that meets that interest, we’ll build it,” Ruzenski said.

Last month, HKNC celebrated its anniversary through a demonstration during deaf-blind awareness week in Manhattan, Debra Rodriguez, the director of communications of HKNC, said. The event involved “showing people, how people who are deaf-blind communicate, and go about their various activities,” she said.

The celebrations will culminate with two activities near the end of the year, Rodriguez said.

On Sept. 14, HKNC will hold its annual gala at Garden City to honor Grayhealth group, “who have been donating their services pro bono for decades to help raise awareness on death-blindness,” she said. On Oct. 7, HKNC will hold a lunch reception at the Sands Point campus where “we will unveil a wall of fame honoring those who have supported the national center including Helen Keller,” she added.

State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) recently secured $100,000 in state funding from the 2017-18 budget for HKNC. The funding will go towards the $350,000 costs to replace the center’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning unit in the HKNC residence building, Joseph F. Bruno, the president and CEO of Helen Keller Services, said.

“We had the pleasure of just recently having Senator Phillips take a tour of our Sands Point campus. We are very thankful that she has chosen to help us with this much needed grant,” Ruzenski said.

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