The J.E. & Z.B. Butler Foundation was created in 1954 and remains a living legacy to Zella and Jack Butler and their deep commitment to New York and the Jewish community. Zella and Jack were my aunt and uncle. They were warm, deeply caring people and they treated their nieces and nephews with special affection. The Foundation is committed to continuing Jack and Zella’s vision with diligence, compassion and creativity.
In 1939 their only child, Barbara, was born with severe developmental disabilities. As there were few options for people with disabilities at that time, Barbara was cared for at the Devereux School in Philadelphia from the age of four until she died in 1993.
The Butlers’ first-hand knowledge of the challenges encountered by individuals with disabilities and their families led to their lifelong commitment to insuring that people with disabilities had access to programs that would enhance their lives. For years, Zella read to visually impaired university students helping them realize their academic dreams in spite of their disabilities. Zella often said, “I have graduated from most of the colleges and universities in the New York area by osmosis.” Jack was a man of humor and grace who had a special rapport with young people, serving as their mentor and friend; his devotion was unconditional. Together they opened their home for Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations. Young and old, family and strangers became friends around their table.
In 2003 the Foundation started funding in Boston, continuing the work that was started in NY. One of the early organizations I met with was The Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE). AANE works to support individuals with Apserger Syndrome and similar autism spectrum issues and their families. They help individuals build meaningful, connected lives by providing information, education, community, support and advocacy.
Dania Jekel, AANE Executive Director: “The Butler Foundation began funding AANE’s child and teen programs in 2005. Before that, our Child and Teen Services department didn’t exist: We had three clinical staff members who handled all calls and questions relating to individuals of all ages, from 2–90 years old. Thanks to the Butler Foundation grant we were able to hire an additional part-time staff person, which greatly enhanced the support we can offer to families”.
The extra staff also enabled AANE to expand educational offerings. Since 2005 they have developed and offered several different seminars and support groups held both in person and online. The online offerings are able to reach families throughout New England who otherwise would be isolated and not able to benefit from all that AANE has to offer. Interaction with parents has helped to shape subsequent programs, ensuring that they are meeting the current needs of the community.
The grant has allowed AANE to offer many options for learning, community building, and problem solving:
- Asperger Syndrome Information Line:Parents can call or email AANE Child and Teen Services staff whenever they need referrals, have questions or concerns, or just need support to raise and educate their child.
- Parent Topic Nights: These are free events to discuss the issues that keep parents up at night. Topic nights also include time for parents to meet and network.
- Workshops: AANE staff and trainers offer in-depth, practical workshops designed around parents’ top concerns, from preventing meltdowns to handling homework to IEPs.
- Ask the Expert Series: Professionals in the field share their expertise and answer questions on a variety of special topics.
- Consultations: AANE staff members provide customized information and guidance in order to help parents feel more confident in their ability to plan and advocate for what their children need at school, at home and in the community.
- Online Support Groups: Groups are free for current members. AANE parents can connect and communicate with other parents 24/7/365 online. AANE also offers moderated discussion/support groups for parents of children or teens.
- Transition GPS: A coordinated set of workshops and services that address families’ needs during this developmental stage.
Families from the New England area and around the globe have benefited from the work that AANE is doing with children and youth.
One parent writes:
“When my son was diagnosed with AS at age 7, the diagnostician urged us to join AANE. He could not have made a more useful suggestion. Our son is now almost 17, and over the last ten years we have attended many meetings, workshops, webinars, support groups, and conferences. We keep coming back because AANE parent resources are always on the cutting edge of best practices in the field. Every AANE staff person I know is both knowledgeable and empathetic. The email list for parents of teens with AS is a regular treasure trove of information. My parenting has been much more effective because of AANE, and when I meet younger parents who have a child with AS I always advise them to join. We are very, very fortunate to have AANE in our community.”
It is gratifying to know that so many individuals, families, schools and communities are being served by the work that AANE is doing. We have watched them grow, always on the cutting edge, always finding ways to serve families, regardless of distance or circumstance. Jack and Zella Butler would be so pleased to know that work like this is being done as a result of their life and their legacy.
Carole Parrish is the Vice President of the JE&ZB Butler Foundation. She heads up the foundation’s work with people with disabilities and at risk youth in the Boston area.