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The Grace Dodge Society Annual Luncheon: Klaassen Fellow Yankowitz Speaks from the Heart

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TC Trustees Joyce Cowin and William Rueckert, acting President Darlyne Bailey and Laurie Yankowitz.

TC Trustees Joyce Cowin and William Rueckert, acting President Darlyne Bailey and Laurie Yankowitz.

On a beautiful June afternoon the Grace Dodge Society, which was created in 2001 in honor of alumni and friends who have remembered Teachers College in their estate plans or have made a life-income gift, held its second annual luncheon in the President's House to honor its members.

Laurie Yankowitz, a doctoral student in the Program in Special Education and one of eight recipients of the Elsie Klaassen Fellowship, delivered inspiring remarks on the occasion. She shared the spotlight with Darlyne Bailey, Acting President of TC; William Rueckert, TC Trustee and Director and President of the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation and great nephew of TC founder Grace Hoadley Dodge; Joyce Cowin, who serves on the TC Board's Academic Affairs Committee and is the founder and generous supporter of the Heritage School, a public high school that is closely associated with Teachers College; and TC's Vice President for Development and External Affairs, Joseph Brosnan.

Yankowitz, who continues with her position as Director of Programs at HeartShare Human Services of New York while studying at TC, spoke to hushed audience of more than 100 Grace Dodge Society members who attended the luncheon. Yankowitz talked about her career, her special interest in studying Fragile X Syndrome, her work at HeartShare, and the importance of her degree from TC.

"About ten years ago," she said, I was supervising a recreation program for adults with developmental disabilities. One young man, Julio, would not join the group. None of my usual strategies engaged him. If I approached him, he backed away...I could tell he desperately wanted to be with us, but it was as if there was an electric force field preventing him from getting close to anyone. I was baffled..."

"One day I heard a presentation about Fragile X Syndrome," she said. "I listened with fascination. The presenter was describing Julio. He avoided eye contact. He was hyperactive. He seemed to want to be social but was painfully shy. The presenter was careful to say that not everyone who has some of these characteristics has Fragile X, and that most people with Fragile X did not have all the traits common to the condition. But Julio did."

Yankowitz continued, "I used some of the interventions the presenter had recommended the next time I worked with Julio. You can guess what happened. The force field was deactivated. Within a few weeks, Julio was joining the group, participating in games, and talking-something no one knew he could do."

"Some years later, the woman who had given that presentation was looking for an agency to administer a contract to provide information about Fragile X Syndrome. Part of my job at HeartShare became organizing and facilitating family support groups. I learned that kids with Fragile X had some wonderful strengths, and were absolutely adored by their families. They all seemed to share a wonderful sense of humor; and they had terrific visual memories-no one in these groups ever worried about losing their car in a large parking lot."

"They also suffer a great deal. The missing protein that is the result of the genetic mutation that causes Fragile X Syndrome results in a nightmare of sensory overload. So they often feel as if they have been injected with 30 cups of espresso when entering a brightly lit room. A low hum can sound like an incessant car alarm. Clothing fabric can feel like sandpaper."

"The stories of frustration about how poorly kids with Fragile X are understood by the schools they attend got to me. I had witnessed for myself what a difference could be made by making informed accommodations to Julio's special needs. So I decided I wanted to educate the teachers of these kids about the unique way they experience the world."

It was then that Yankowitz decided to pursue her degree in Special Education and found the right fit at TC, with the help of the Klaassen Fellowship.

"Being accepted to TC's doctoral program with the aid of scholarship funds was incredibly affirming. I knew then that I had made the right decision, to pursue my passion for learning and teaching instead of just playing it safe. I am one of eight Elsie Todd Klaassen scholars this year, and I can tell you that this scholarship was pivotal for each one of us. Later, we learned that Mrs. Klaassen provided for this scholarship through a gift in her will. To know that someone we never met believed in us and cared about the work we would do is profoundly inspiring."

Elsie Klaassen, a 1940 graduate of TC dedicated her life to teaching children with mental impairments. She and her husband, Willem, decided to include a provision in their wills to establish a scholarship at Teachers College. After she died in 1994, their gift endowed the Elsie Todd Klaassen Fellowship for students who plan careers in the teaching of persons with mental retardation.

To learn more about the Grace Dodge Society please visit the Web site at www.tc.columbia.edu/alumni/grace_dodge.htm or e-mail the Gift Planning Office at giftplan@exchange.tc.columbia.edu, or call toll-free at 866-782-4438.

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