Elizabeth and David Klein- Children of Promise Gala Committee Hosts

Southborough residents Beth and David Klein have three children, ages 13, 10 and 9. Their oldest, Jake, attended kindergarten in Southborough public schools when he became fast friends with a classmate with autism. Jake came home one day and began asking Beth all sorts of questions about autism – “What is autism? Why does my friend have an aide? Can anyone get an aide?” The families quickly became friendly and did what parents with young children do, assisting with rides, hosting playdates, attending birthday parties.

When the boys were in 2nd grade, Beth chaperoned a field trip to Boston’s Museum of Science. She noticed that if Jake’s friend was getting too far ahead of the group, Jake gently put his hand on the boy’s shoulder to slow him down. If he was falling behind, Jake asked the group to slow down and wait.

“This friendship provided for earlier development of empathy on the part of Jake, and his siblings, that I feel might take longer to teach if you’re not given the opportunity of an inclusive classroom,” Beth says.

photo by Bill Brett
photo by Bill Brett

This early friendship between her son and his pal sparked Beth’s interest in autism. She learned more about how autism affects families, the spectrum of diagnoses, and the services available.

As a philanthropist, Beth has great experience bringing people together to support something she is passionate about. She has run events resulting in millions of dollars raised for hospitals, medical research, UNICEF, schools, and for the local community.

When she was invited to attend a gala fundraiser for NECC, she asked how she and David could be more involved and ended up chairing the host committee of the inaugural Children of Promise gala.

“We wanted to bring our concern for these kids and families closer to home,” Beth says. She and David met founder, Vinnie Strully, and toured NECC.

“We had driven by NECC for 15 years and really had no idea what went on inside. Why does Governor Dukakis have an aquatic center in Southborough? Why Abu Dhabi? It was amazing to see what was going on very quietly right beneath our noses. ”Beth was impressed by the research, which focuses on treating children who have autism rather than focusing on causes or cures. “The most urgent and critical work is with kids who need help right now,” she says.

In just two years the Kleins have hosted a local awareness-raiser, an art show, and a successful Children of Promise Gala, strengthening relationships between NECC, its supporters and the community.

“The Gala Committee showed unparalleled dedication, opened up their network of contacts, and called in favors. They were all in. This showed such a passion for NECC, and made working with NECC so easy,” she says. “The highlight of last year’s Gala was the award presentations, honoring a student, a community partner, and a teacher for their efforts. It was such a fun and inspiring night!”

Going forward, Beth’s got big visions. “I like round numbers. I’d like to raise a million dollars at the Gala, I’d like to see a million children with autism cared for with NECC’s curriculum, and I’d like to see a million teachers trained by NECC.  I’d also like to see the global standard of autism care match what is taking place at NECC and in their partner classrooms.”

“You can’t help but recognize the impact autism has on the community and the schools and the kids,” she says. “As a community, we need to pay attention to the work NECC is doing; it may very well be Massachusetts’ most important export, and is certainly Southborough’s. We need to ensure children with ASDs are given the tools that they need, that all the kids in our schools understand what autism is and that they know how to be a good friend.”

Meet the Patenaude Family

Allison and Stephen Patenaude received their son Nathan’s autism and global developmental delay diagnosis just two days before his sister, Morgan, was born. Nathan was already enrolled in Early Intervention, but when the autism diagnosis came, Allison and Stephen began exploring other options. They first learned about The New England Center for Children through patenaudesNathan’s early intervention teacher, which prompted Allison to read about the program online.

“It really boiled down to the research. We knew they would be on the cutting edge of what needs to be done with autism,” Stephen said.

In January 2015, Allison met with admissions staff and was quickly impressed with NECC’s 30 hours per week of intensive home based training. Nathan was 2, but functioning at a 12-month-old level.

“When we started with home-based he couldn’t sit, [he had] a lot of repetitive motions, no eye contact, couldn’t point, lost all of his early toddler skills,”Stephen said. “Julie, our lead NECC therapist, sat on the floor the first day, and he joined her and shape sorted with her.”

As full-time working parents, they found NECC home-based services to be invaluable.

“In the first week he was sitting in a session for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. NECC really gave him those foundational skills back,” Stephen said. “We knew from the first day we made the right choice.”

The Patenaude’s started a support group for families using Early Intervention services. They met monthly to talk about autism and other diagnoses, and discuss how it affects their families’ lives. Once Nathan began using NECC services, they shared their experience and seven families from their group started at NECC. Although Nathan used NECC services for only eight months, the Patenaude’s are strong supporters of NECC.

“We realized quickly how life-changing NECC has been. [It] literally changed our lives for the better, especially Nathan’s life,” Allison said.

They found unique ways to give back. With every real estate transaction Stephen closes through Century 21, he donates a percentage to NECC. They also support NECC’s Annual 5K Walk/Run for Autism with “Team Nate.” “We wanted to raise a little bit of money and awareness so we started a GoFundMe page,” said Allison. “Our goal was five hundred dollars, but we raised over five thousand.” In 2016, they hosted a fundraising night at Night Shift Brewery in Everett. More than 125 people attended, and they raised $12,000.
The Patenaude’s want to help ensure that all kids with autism get the services and education they need.

“Statistics are showing that autism rates are going up so fast that everyone is going to know someone with autism,” said Allison. “It’s something we have to figure out.” It’s this passion and caring that has inspired others to support their fundraising efforts. “We know we will always have NECC in our lives,” she said. “It’s something that’s important to us.”