Milestones Autism Resources annual benefit celebration will celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary and honor its founders, Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles.
Based in Warrensville Heights, the nonprofit began in 2003 as the founders were navigating the limited resources for autistic individuals as parents and sought to learn more and share what they could do to improve the community.
“It’s pretty amazing that this organization that grew out of an idea that Ilana and I had 20 years ago is here and thriving and has been able to serve so many people, autistic individuals, some who were children and are now adults, as well as families and professionals,” Gelles, who is the operations director, told the Cleveland Jewish News Sept. 19.
“And it really made a difference in Northeast Ohio.”
Gelles, a resident of Cleveland Heights and a member of Beth El-The Heights Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, said that when the organization started, there were very few service providers for autistic individuals and public schools were not prepared to work with students who had autism. Now there has been a shift to many providers in the area and schools that are more informed and prepared, which she said are huge positive steps.
Still, there is room for growth in areas such as adult services, which Milestones identified as a priority about 10 years ago and is focused on building partnerships to fill gaps in areas such as residential and employment services.
Skoff,who is the executive director, also mentioned the tremendous growth in the field of serving autistic individuals over the last 20 years, and the growth of Milestones from two individuals to now about a staff of 20 with a board and committee chairs that is reflective of the neuro and racial diversity of the community.
“For all of us to have gotten here is really thrilling, and we’re grateful that Milestones could help contribute and support that growth and expansion of how autistic individuals show up, how they present, how they’re included and how they’re valued in our community,” Skoff, a Beachwood resident and member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike told the CJN Sept. 19.
The annual benefit will kick off with a cocktail hour, followed by the program and an auction, and ending with dinner and dancing. An online raffle will be open to the public.
“This is really a thank you to the community and a way to continue supporting our efforts so that everyone has a place to turn,” Skoff said, adding Milestones started as she and Gelles helped each other and saw the value of having someone to call, who knows what it is like and can make recommendations based on their own lived experience.
The 20th anniversary of Milestones kicked off earlier this summer with its annual National Autism Conference and continued with the launching of Milestones/MAP tool, or Milestones Autism Planning Tool, which allows the professional staff, parents and autistic individuals to access shared information and see what they need for each stage of life.
“It really breaks it down to share in detail by each age group what you need to be thinking about, what are tips for
planning, what are things that other parents, professionals and individuals have learned, and just to be able to share that knowledge in a way that’s digestible and easy with others,” Gelles said. “So, that’s been a huge goal of ours and it’s been exciting to see that launch this year for the community.”
While the annual benefit honors Skoff and Gelles as the founders, they said they are more focused on celebrating the community at Milestones who have also worked so hard over the years.
“It’s really been a gift to be able to come together as a community and as staff to be able to move this project along,” Gelles said. “You have goals and dreams and thoughts, and two people can do a lot but there are limits. There’s a 24-hour day for everybody.”