Since it was founded by a group of local parents in 1985, LAUNCH has helped individuals become more independent at work, school and home.

Family Times recently talked to Julie Freeman, director of education, about the non-profit’s history, its mission, and the services it offers (including three summer programs).

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

1. Can you tell me a little about the history behind LAUNCH, and how it grew into what it is today?

LAUNCH used to be known as the Learning Disabilities Association of Central New York (LDACNY), and that was founded in 1985. It was formed by a group of parents who were concerned about their children’s educational needs and how the school was servicing them. This was primarily parents who had children with disabilities, mainly learning disabilities at that time, and they just felt like there were things that might be missing. So, they came together and worked together in order to help each other and help their children.

The agency grew from there. In 2017, the name changed from LDACNY to LAUNCH CNY and the reason for that is because although we still serve many students with learning disabilities, we serve a greater variety than that. We also serve students on the autism spectrum, individuals with developmental disabilities, and individuals who don’t necessarily have a disability, but might have some other barriers to employment or recreation or independent living or learning. We will work with anyone who wants to progress their path to independence.

2. What is your goal or mission?

The main mission is to serve anyone who wants support for learning and to help them progress in their employment, their independent living, or the learning process.

3. Describe the programs and services you offer.

We have a variety. We have an educational consulting program for families who want some help navigating the school system. We work as liaisons between families and schools. We have the summer programs, which is a large part of what I do. And then we have community living. That is for people who want some support with their independent living skills, so household management, cooking, housekeeping, etc. And then we have a recreation program, LAUNCH Recreation, and that’s an adult social rec. That’s an opportunity for individuals to gather with their friends and cultivate friendships. We also have an employment program to help individuals find and maintain successful, meaningful employment.

Can you tell me a little more about the summer programs?

We haven’t offered it the last two years because of COVID, but they have been around for a long time – the first one was in 1990. It’s for students ages 6-16. We have three distinct programs. We have SAIL for children ages 6-11, and then we have Level-Up, and that’s for middle school learners, ages 12-13. And then we have LAUNCH Skills, it’s mainly called Learning Without Boarders, and that’s for high school students, ages 14-16.

How can families sign up – and how soon?

They can go right to our website, Sooner rather than later because spots do fill. It’s a popular program and I know that families have been looking for it since we didn’t run it the last two years.

4. How can Family Times readers get involved with your organization?

I would direct them right to the website. There is all kinds of information there about how they can volunteer, how they can help donate. Financial support is always huge being that we are a non-profit. And then there are details about all the different services and the ways they can connect and take advantage of the things that we offer.

5. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Our agency primarily serves individuals with disabilities, but our summer program is very inclusive. Students with and without disabilities are welcome to attend; anyone who is looking to help prevent the summer slide. That’s really what our focus is. We know with the addition of COVID, and the negative impacts of that on student learning, that our summer program will be even more important this year.


Courtney Kless is the Editor in Chief of Family Times. Courtney is originally from Maryland. She earned her Master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from Syracuse University. Courtney began her career as a sports journalist, then spent several years working in higher education, before joining the company in August 2019. She enjoys traveling, reading and hiking, and recently adopted a Labrador Retriever, Bailey.

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