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Helmsley Foundation honored by Helen Keller Center.

Staff and clients of the Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf-Blind (HKNC) personally thanked Leona Helmsley for providing funding for the Leona and Harry B. Helmsley Conference Center, a major addition to the Center's campus in Sands Point, NY that will greatly enhance its ability to serve deaf-blind clients across the nation.

Plans for the 5,000 square-foot conference center, funded by a $525,000 gift from the Leona and Harry B. Helmsley Foundation, Inc., were announced by Joseph McNulty, director of HKNC, at a reception honoring Mrs. Helmsley that was attended by government officials, local dignitaries, clients and staff.

According to McNulty, the bulk of the gift will be used to build the conference center, which will feature video teleconferencing and closed circuit television to help HKNC provide training for clients, staff and its affiliates, including 40 state and private agencies serving the deaf-blind. The remaining $25,000 has been earmarked to expand HKNC's library, a national clearinghouse for information on deaf-blind children and adolescents.

"Anyone who visits the Helen Keller National Center comes away impressed by its work, the dedication of its staff and the courage of its clients," said Helmsley. "I am honored to be a part of it."

"Mrs. Helmsley's generosity permits us to more effectively disseminate information to our national training team, on-site staff clients and professionals around the country," said McNulty. "This gift helps us ensure that people who are deaf-blind receive the skills, training and support necessary for them to live and work in the community of their choice. We are extremely grateful."

"Funding to maintain and expand HKNC's programs and services is critical to our future," said Laurence S. Wizel, chairman of Helen Keller's board of directors. "This wonderful gift will help us fulfill our mandate to train people around the country and reach deaf-blind clients who desperately need our services."

One of the highlights of the ceremony was the appearance of Ashley Benton, a student from Clinton, NC, who arrived at HKNC in May and is preparing to return home in mid-October. With the aid of an interpreter, Benton spoke about the impact HKNB has made on her life and the training she received in Braille, independent living and mobility.

Benton will graduate from East Carolina University in December with a degree in Family and Community Services. While at HKNC, she did an internship for her college in case management. Benton was followed by Bob Smithdas, associate director of HKNC, who is himself deaf-blind and was the subject of award-whining 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters last year. Smithdas spoke about meeting Mrs. Helmsley on her tour of the facility last April, personally thanked her for her generosity, and spoke about the progress that the deaf-blind population has made over the years.

"Today, the deaf-blind population has made major strides in terms of job opportunities, education and communication," said Smithdas, who was the first deaf-blind person since Helen Keller to obtain a bachelor's degree and subsequently went on for a master's degree. "Deaf-blind people are often a forgotten minority, who are usually overlooked in favor of larger groups of disabled people. We are grateful to Mrs. Helmsley for remembering us."

Smithdas then introduced Helmsley, who was presented with a gift by two HKNC clients: a vase made by Brian Famey and a floral arrangement by Ramona Buxton-Anderson, who obtained her current job at 1-800-FLOWERS through HKNC.

The current campus of HKNC was completed in 1976 and includes two buildings: a training facility that houses classes in independent living, assistive technology, vocational rehabilitation, communication and mobility; and a residence where clients live on-site for periods of time ranging from six months to two years, depending upon their level of need. The facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Designed by architect Anthony DiSanto of New York-based DiSanto Associates, the two-story Leona and Harry B. Helmsely Conference Center will house approximately 5,000 square feet of space, with the possible addition of a 1,000 square-foot basement wood shop.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 10, 1999
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