On a snowy December day in 2006, a pregnant, drug-addicted prostitute asked a caseworker from Rochester’s Mary Magdalene’s Outreach Center to adopt her child. Jennifer Wolfley went home and told her husband, Ted, they were going to have a baby. They named him Sergei.
Devon was born in 1982 on her due date, but her parents, Anne Van Ginkel and Larry Quinsland, soon discovered their happy, sweet baby had early signs of physical and mental disabilities—later confirmed by a doctor who said Devon would never be able to live independently.
The personal journeys of Sergei and Devon are featured in posters you’ll see around campus for RIT’s 2014 United Way Campaign. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 priority for their parents is concern for their future.
“Ted and I have four biological children, so instead of going into the empty nest stage, we were starting over with a baby,” said Wolfley, adjunct professor in the College of Liberal Arts. “Everyone from RIT was stunned when they received Sergei’s birth announcement but were incredibly compassionate that we adopted a bi-racial child with special needs.”
Sergei is now 6 years old and attends Council Rock Primary School in Brighton—but he suffers from delays and challenges due to being diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and severe autism. “To describe him, Sergei is somewhere between Forrest Gump and Rain Man,” said Jennifer. “He receives speech, occupational and physical therapy from CP Rochester and Mary Cariola Children’s Center.
“Physically, emotionally and financially, we couldn’t have survived without these agencies. The people who will care for Sergei aren’t born yet, and we will be relying on the kindness of strangers through United Way after Ted and I are gone.”
Ted, who works at Rochester Regional Health Information Organization, said leaving someone behind who is really helpless leaves no choice but to think ahead. “We already have plans to donate our house as a group home to CP Rochester so Sergei can continue to live there.”
Devon, now 31, will be living with her best friend, Kerry, in a home purchased by her parents. “The girls met at age 5 and instantly bonded,” said Van Ginkel, recently retired from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “Children with disabilities often don’t have friends, so for them to reconnect years later and renew their friendship was very special.”
Quinsland, a professor at NTID, said Devon’s major disability is expressive. “She cannot say what she is thinking,” he said. “In the lifetime of a child with special needs, it’s not just one United Way agency that helps. We can thank so many—Lifetime Assistance Inc., Easter Seals, Heritage Christian Services, Cobblestone Arts Center.”
“Our biggest concern was who will care for her after we are gone,” said Quinsland. “State funding has diminished, so with help from Lifetime Assistance, we’ve established a state certified home for the girls with live-in providers. It’s a groundbreaking plan to assist other parents of disabled adults in designing creative housing options for the future.”