United Way touches RIT families

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Elizabeth Lamark

Annalea Kray is an active first grader who loves to dance. RIT’s Margaret’s House Child Care Center played a key role in early intervention therapies for the 6-year-old who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Sad stories can have happy endings—especially for two brave families whose faces you’ll see on posters around campus during RIT’s 2017 United Way campaign.

Kelly Ditzel, staff recruiter in RIT’s human resources department, was told her daughter had Down syndrome just minutes after her birth. “The doctor was very matter-of-fact, and my husband Jim and I felt it was like a blow to our hearts,” she said.

“Paige had three holes in her heart, underwent surgery at 5 months, and was hospitalized for several weeks. It became a rocky road filled with physical, occupational and speech therapy. We couldn’t have done it without United Way support.”

Meanwhile, teachers at RIT’s Margaret’s House Child Care Center (United Way designated agency) were instrumental in helping Annalea Kray, who knew the alphabet and could count to 20 by age 2, but had challenges in communication and social skills.

“I was completely unprepared for my daughter’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis,” said Christine Kray, associate professor of anthropology at RIT’s College of Liberal Arts. “Margaret’s House immediately contacted Rochester Hearing and Speech Center, and the early intervention therapies made a tremendous difference in Annalea’s development.”

And there’s good news for both girls.

Paige is a high-functioning teenager who attends the School of the Holy Childhood, plays piano, rides her bike around her Fairport neighborhood, and participates in Irish dance, golf, hockey, basketball and Special Olympics skiing and swimming.

Six-year-old Annalea attends first grade at Penfield’s Scribner Road Elementary School, enjoys sensory-based recreational activities at AutismUp and therapeutic swimming at the YMCA.

“This is why we get so energized about our United Way effort,” said Lynn Rowoth, assistant vice president of special events and conferences who ran RIT’s campaign for the last 11 years. “We are supporting our very own community and saying we care; we’re behind you all the way.”

According to Rowoth and Denise Acton, RIT’s new campaign coordinator, the campus community of faculty, staff, retirees and students promote an “outstanding” fundraising effort—from the annual golf tournament and kick-off carnival, to the CHAIRity auction and student-run Change Drive, Mud Tug and hockey jersey drawings. The posters around campus, designed as part of a classroom project for visual communication studies students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, help raise the bar every year.

And Kray is humbled and thankful for all of the support. “I didn’t know we had such a strong safety net in Rochester until I was falling and it wrapped me up and caught me. The story of our local heroes begins right here in the RIT community.”