FAREWELL MESSAGE FROM MARJORIE MADFIS
January 26, 2023
I want to let you know of my decision to step down from the position of President of the Board of Directors and resign from the board of Yes She Can. As I retire, I leave knowing that Yes She Can has been an innovative and impactful organization that has improved the lives of our participants, their families, and our community. It has served as a model for others who believe that people with autism deserve customized and effective training to enable them to join the workforce and gain greater independence.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many individuals and organizations who have helped in my 12-year journey to create and bring to fruition Yes She Can and its retail store, Girl AGain. (It’s a long list.)
My daughter Isabelle was my inspiration and motivation to create Yes She Can. While my business skills – especially my expertise in strategy, planning, and marketing – were an advantage, I could not do it alone. I benefited from many people who offered their expertise pro-bono, and later from dedicated and highly skilled employees.
Yes She Can was a work in progress for me prior to incorporation. When I shared my concept with professionals in the autism world, and received positive responses, I knew it was time to undertake this endeavor. Lesli Cattan and the Westchester County Autism Advisory Council, Debbie Hilibrand, Alison Singer, Fredda Rosen, Dr. Fred Volkmar and his staff at The Yale Child Study Center, and many more. These individuals were in my corner from the beginning, encouraging me and providing me with sage advice. THANK YOU!
After I wrote my business plan, Dan Rosenbaum helped me draft the articles of incorporation and submit to New York State. My sister, Pat Salner, and IBM colleague, Allan Freidman, joined me as trustees. My friend, Kat Nemec, graphic designer extraordinaire, designed the perfect logos for Yes She Can and Girl AGain, as well as fundraising campaigns. Intellectual property attorney, Michael Cantor reviewed the designs and recommended minor changes so as not to trouble American Girl. My WordPress instructor, Laura Hartwig, created our two websites so that I could manage them, but when it came time for me to pay her for her services, she withdrew her charge because she said it was good karma to provide her service as a gift to the organization. THANK YOU!
At the Westchester County Autism Advisory Council, Pat Rowan immediately volunteered to help me create the curriculum for our job skills program and serve as our first coach and recruited trainees. When we opened our first Girl AGain store, Sheri Baron, a psychologist specializing in autism, volunteered as a coach and helped me create our training curriculum. She realized that coaching in an authentic work environment was much more effective than coaching in a psychologist’s office. THANK YOU!
I benefited from the guidance from many experienced leaders and members of Non-Profit Westchester, Volunteer New York, and Pro Bono Partnership. With the support of Pro Bono Partnership, Susan Edwards Colson prepared our application to the IRS for tax exempt status (501c3); wrote our by-laws; and conflict of interest policy. Many other attorneys including Charlie Biener and Peter Bassano, David Bernstein and Hillary Hubley provided invaluable services to Yes She Can. THANK YOU!
Many people volunteered as work skills coaches including Diane Annunziata, Theresa Crawford, Fran Coleman, and Pam Eliach, and as peer mentors including Jacqueline Di Salvatori, Melanie Pugni, Sarah Hillesheim, Zoe Dunford, Lauren Sadowski, Emily Koevary, and more. THANK YOU!
Chandra Russell was our first Girl AGain manager, and first employee. Because of her efforts, our revenue from store sales (which funds our training program) doubled! She recruited Girl Scouts to repair dolls and created customer workshops. Through her social media skills, Chandra made the store a destination for collectors across the country. COVID forced Chandra to leave us, but we were fortunate to have Claudia Castaneda assume the position with great passion for both the store and the mission. Ethel Caruso, our bookkeeper, has been a great partner. She patiently reorganized the chart of accounts, so our story could be told through our P&L and our 990 report. THANK YOU!
After Lesli Cattan retired from her role with the Department of Community Mental Health, she joined Yes She Can as Director of Training Programs. She expanded our program and added coaches, supervised grad students, designed trainee assessments, and created a job exploration program. Then in March 2020, Lesli and her staff, Jennifer Eisman and Laura Galbraith, pivoted in one week to “virtual” coaching, lasting 15 months during COVID, and then transitioned back coaching to at the store. THANK YOU!
COVID had a huge impact on everyone but we persisted. However, after 2 years of leading our program and trainees through the pandemic, Lesli retired. Amanda Becker-Torres followed Lesli’s strategies and expanded the job exploration program. THANK YOU!
Our launch of Advocates for Adults with Autism in 2016 was supported by a committee including Gail Chen, Joanne McMahon, and Barbara Carr. Philippa Wharton created all our inspirational and award-winning videos featuring our trainees and the program. Beth Feldman recently led our development effort, winning significant grants from generous funders. THANK YOU!
I learned a lot from other parents who have children on the spectrum and who also took the initiative to address the employment challenges: Lori and Gregg Ireland, Brenda Weitzberg, and others. I also gained insight from our trainees on how to make our job skills program work best for them and all future trainees. I am very proud of the progress and accomplishments of all our trainees. THANK YOU!
Our state, county and municipal elected representatives have been very supportive of the important work we have done and remained engaged in understanding the needs of people with disabilities. Those people are: NY State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, NY Senator Shelley Mayer, NY Assemblyman Chris Burdick, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, County Commissioner of Community Mental Health Michael Orth, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach, White Plains Councilwoman Jenn Puja, and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, as well as retired US Congresswoman Nita Lowey. THANK YOU!
I want to acknowledge all the people who have served on our board, both past and present: Patricia Salner, Allan Friedman, Sheri Baron, Randi Rios Castro, Jessica Markowitz, Charles Biener, Amy Gravino, Debra Solomon, Sheri Gordon. Each in their own way have helped me and allowed our organization to grow and thrive. THANK YOU!
MY HEARTFELT THANKS TO DONORS AND SUPPORTERS
Yes She Can would not have been able to achieve our goals without your generosity. You read my blog posts and newsletters. You attended or sponsored our Advocates for Adults with Autism Awards events. You donated on Giving Tuesdays and Autism Awareness Days. You joined our Bike to the Beach team. You donated American Girl dolls and your extra shopping bags. You shared our story and our mission. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Finally, I want to acknowledge the three most influential people: my daughter Isabelle, my husband Paul, and my sister Pat.
Yes She Can would not exist had it not been for Isabelle Piwnicki. With her own advocacy and her willingness to share her story, she is recognized as the face of the organization. Izzie benefited immensely from our program and the social connections with other young women like her. She will continue to work as an Associate at the Girl AGain boutique.
My sister, Pat Salner, joined as our first board member and has served 9 years as a trusted advisor, an expert in non-profit development and our most effective fundraiser, an advocate for people with autism and a loving Aunt to Izzie. She also lead weekly yoga sessions with trainees during our 15 months of online training.
My husband, Paul Piwnicki has been our first and most devoted volunteer and has been by my side through thick and thin. His contributions are innumerable. Read about our first volunteer’s contributions to Yes She Can.
Yes She Can would not exist without these three. THANK YOU!
I look forward to seeing Yes She Can continue to have a significant impact on employment and greater independence for young women with autism and related disabilities under the leadership of Executive Director Robin Davies-Small and the board of directors.
I hope you will remain engaged with our organization and continue to support our mission of employment and greater independence for young women with autism.
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