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Special Needs School Named for KidStart “Godfather”
The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming has dedicated its new KidStart building at 5871 Groveland Station Road in Groveland to Dr. Lyle C. Lehman, a pioneer in the field of special education and lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. The school, which serves approximately 350 children annually, many with special needs, was inaugurated as the Lehman Building on Wednesday, March 30th, in a grand opening ceremony that was attended by more than 100 people.
“Lyle is the real founder and force behind The Arc’s KidStart services,” said Chris Peterson, Executive Director of The Arc, the private, not-for-profit human services agency that operates the school. “Lyle demonstrates the highest level of commitment. He is not a parent of a child with a disability, yet his drive and understanding is equal to the many fine parents who help encourage and lead us.”
A member of The Arc's Board of Directors since 1975, Dr. Lehman is also past chairman of SUNY Geneseo's Special Education department. While at SUNY Geneseo, Dr. Lehman worked tirelessly with campus officials to pave the way for an Arc-operated children's services program. The program, known today as “KidStart,” was established in 1977, in the Holcomb building on the southwest corner of campus.
Earlier this year, The Arc moved KidStart from the SUNY Geneseo campus into its new, $4.2 million home, in response to planned construction by the school that will result in Holcomb’s demolition.
KidStart provides special services, affordable day care for children with and without disabilities, and is the Livingston County grantee agency for Head Start, a federal program for low-income children and their families. It integrates with The Arc’s adult programs to provide comprehensive, cradle-to-grave services for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
“In reality, Lyle Lehman is the godfather of our preschool program,” said Cheryl Englert, President of The Arc Board of Directors. Mrs. Englert’s son, Matt, graduated from the KidStart program in 1980. Matt now lives independently in Dansville, supported by a 24-hour staff at an Arc-operated residence.
Mrs. Englert unveiled a plaque that bears Dr. Lehman's likeness and the inscription, “Dedicated with greatest respect and admiration to Dr. Lyle C. Lehman: Distinguished educator, inexhaustible advocate, friend, mentor, trailblazer, and guiding force for KidStart and The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. The scope of his perspective, depth of his understanding, his uninhibited energy, and his unblinking dedication will guide us for generations to come.”
Dr. Lehman, who is 80 years old and lives in Geneseo with his wife, Margaret, has long been a force for positive change for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, both locally and outside of the area. He is an active member of NYSARC (New York State Arc) for almost 40 years, where he has held multiple executive-level volunteer positions and served in leadership roles on dozens of committees.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus. Dr. Lehman possesses that unique quality. He is a molder of consensus,” said NYSARC Executive Director Marc N. Brandt. Mr. Brandt traveled from Albany to support Dr. Lehman by participating in the ceremony. He was accompanied by NYSARC President Jack Schuppenhauer, Immediate Past President Katharine Wilson Conroy, and Assistant Executive Director of Public Information and Special Projects Susan Brandt.
The grand opening of the Lehman Building also included a formal ribbon cutting by past and present Arc Board members and children of KidStart, and an announcement that the ongoing Opening Doors capital campaign has raised $215,000 toward its $800,000 goal to help fund the school.
The dedication came as a surprise to Dr. Lehman, who was not informed prior to the event that the building would bear his name. The intensity of the moment left the outspoken advocate emotionally touched, and uncharacteristically silent.
“I'm usually not at a loss for words. I am today,” Dr. Lehman gently said. “Thank you.”