Will Sukenik, Cleveland native and community leader, has been actively involved in various causes throughout Northeast Ohio for more than 50 years.
When Milestones co-founder Ilana Hoffer Skoff first reached out to Sukenik, nearly 15 years ago, he was immediately drawn to the organization’s mission. Though he doesn’t have a personal connection to autism, he was familiar with the challenges it presented to families.
“The work that Milestones does in the community is very important,” he says. “There are a lot of families who are struggling and the organization has helped in so many ways. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ilana. I think she and her staff are doing an absolutely fantastic job.”
Sukenik recognizes the importance of campaigns like Milestones’ Annual Fund and encourages individuals to get involved and give back. Serving as co-chair of the Milestones planned giving committee alongside Steve Rudolph, he is consistently considering the future and an organization’s support in perpetuity.
“Without the support of the Annual Fund, Milestones would not be able to do what they are doing,” he says. “I’m also trying to encourage others to leave a legacy so an organization can be continually supported even after they are no longer around.”
In addition to his involvement with Milestones, Sukenik serves as President of Beachwood-based Properties Management Co. and has held multiple leadership positions in the community including serving as a past board member of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, honorary and life trustee of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, and life trustee of the Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland.
When Sukenik reflects on all that Milestones has achieved over the years – how the organization serves more than 2,400 parents and professionals each year, the thousands of online resources, the free Helpdesk and an annual autism conference – he sees the difference it is making in the region and beyond.
“The successes have been amazing,” he says. “I would hope that people would consider becoming involved and continue to be involved.”
The Will & Jan Sukenik Foundation will continue to support and fund Milestones and many other worthy organizations for many years to come. Will is co-chair of the Milestones Planned Giving Committee along with Stephen Rudolph.
Molly Mack was at a crossroads.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum, she felt like her family had successfully navigated Daniel’s early childhood years thanks to support and local resources. But Daniel’s teenage years and his looming transition to adulthood presented a whole other set of challenges.
“With this new season of life, I felt like didn’t have someone to turn to,” Molly remembers of that desperate time two years ago. “It was the first time I truly felt alone.”
Had a friend not told her about Milestones, Molly says she would not have found such life-changing resources for her son – and empowerment as a parent. “They have helped me be a better mom to Daniel,” she says. “They are right there, helping me every step of the way.”
How did you first get connected to Milestones?
My husband Tom and I moved our family from a smaller town in Ohio to a western suburb of Cleveland when our son, Daniel, was three. We believed there would be more resources and a greater level of services for him in a bigger city. This was back in 2005. But more recently, with this transition piece to adulthood, I felt at a loss.
I shared how I was feeling with a friend of mine, Sarah, who founded Connecting for Kids. I asked her, “What am I supposed to be doing? I have no clue where to turn.” And that’s when Sarah told me, “You have to call Beth at Milestones.”
How has the Milestones staff helped you?
I called Beth (Thompson) that very day! Beth has been my lifeline. Ever since that first phone call, she has been my coach, navigator and sounding board. This was two years ago, when Daniel was 14.
What kinds of resources and services has your family benefited from because of your affiliation with Milestones?
Beth asked me all about Daniel and our journey. She then made a game plan for steps I needed to take to get Daniel connected with agencies and programs that would likely be part of his future. Milestones had step-by-step checklists and timelines for what we should be doing for Daniel as he progresses through high school and into adulthood. I felt an immediate sense of relief at that very first meeting with her.
Tell us about your son, Daniel.
When diagnosed with ASD as a preschooler, our Daniel lagged behind his peers verbally and socially. He was easily overwhelmed with the world around him – it was exhausting to stay two steps ahead of his sensory sensitivities. Then, he literally stopped napping at age two the very week his first baby brother came home. Those were very long days!
As someone once explained to us, autism is like Swiss cheese: a child can have so many strengths yet there are pockets of weaknesses in random areas. Daniel’s strengths have always amazed us. He taught himself to read and can spell like a spelling bee champ. He has always loved math, historical facts and music. Yet, learning can be difficult for him due to reading comprehension and problem solving weaknesses.
Thanks to the positive approach of our school teams over the years, Daniel enjoys attending school despite these challenges. He is motivated to head off to school every day. That is huge! His teachers consistently report that Daniel wants to learn, rarely complains, works hard and is seen as a positive, can-do guy.
The biggest thing you need to know about our Daniel is his one, overarching, glowing strength: he is an extremely social guy who leaves a positive impression most everywhere he goes. He knows nearly everyone, never forgets a name or face and is genuinely interested in the details of their lives. He has been called The Ambassador of his school and The Mayor of our town. He also has a fun sense of humor. Despite having a social/communication disability, Daniel thrives from his connections with others. We are excited to see where this social gift will take him career wise.
How was Daniel’s transition to high school?
Daniel goes to the mainstream high school in our town. We were intentional about wanting him to be a student at Bay Village City Schools to be integrated with neuro-typical kids. We chose Bay Village because it is an older, more established suburb that is not sprawling and constantly changing. He is a sophomore now at Bay High School and he has absolutely benefitted from the stability and continuity of our school system and town. Some of his most special friends today were neuro-typical peers way back in his mainstream elementary classes. We are grateful for the strong sense of community and inclusion within Bay Village as a whole. Daniel is loved and accepted for who he is by his classmates, parents, teachers and neighbors. We really could not ask for more than that!
Tell us about your hopes for Daniel’s future.
The biggest thing for us is making sure that we help Daniel find a future path – whether school or career — that really capitalizes on his strengths. He’s extremely social and motivated by his connection with people. Ultimately we want Daniel to be safe, happy and self-supporting. We believe strongly that happiness, for everyone, is found when you are able to use the gifts you’ve been given.
Milestones strives to help every individual with ASD reach his/her potential. How do you feel the organization has helped Daniel reach his potential?
This past summer, Daniel got his first real job. He was a busboy at a restaurant. He absolutely loved it. And he’s still working there. The restaurant staff is so supportive – the staff and managers love him and embrace him. It’s so wonderful to see that he can be successful in a competitive work environment. And that is the goal, for him to be successful in a real world environment.
Why is the Annual Fund important?
I will never forget feeling totally lost as I entered this current phase of parenting. Milestones was there for me, and continues to be there for me today. I do not take that support for granted — help is literally a phone call away. The annual fund supports all the amazing work Milestones is doing in the community. It is also nice to know that parents, who may not be able to afford their services, still have an opportunity to access resources thanks to the annual fund.
Why would you encourage someone to give to the Annual Fund?
I support Milestones because the personal coaching I have received from Beth Thompson has truly been priceless! Cleveland is so lucky to have this resource within our community. It is vital that we all help support its efforts at assisting families on this “special journey.”
We’re able to do what we do because of you.
Each year, Milestones serves more than 2,400 parents and professionals throughout the region. We strive to support and enrich the local autism community through our annual conference, workshops, trainings, coaching services and referrals, as well as providing thousands of resources on our website, milestones.org. Since our founding in 2003, the mission is simple yet significant: to help individuals with autism reach their potential.
We believe there is a spectrum of possibility within every individual with ASD.
Your generous support has enabled us to become the preeminent autism resource in Northeast Ohio. Families with children on the spectrum come to us for information about an individual’s social, emotional, educational, recreational, therapeutic, vocational and housing needs from birth through adulthood. World-renowned author and speaker Temple Grandin kicked off our 15th Annual Autism Conference, which attracted over 1,500 attendees this year. We expanded our workshops to include such panels as “How ASD Impacts Children of Color and their Families,” “In Love and On the Spectrum” featuring couples where one partner is on the spectrum, and “Working with Individuals with ASD Who Identify as Transgender,” all highlighting the need for more awareness and understanding from social service, medical and other providers of care.
“The need for autism-related services and education is overwhelming,” says Milestones co-founder Mia Buchwald Gelles. “The autism population is growing and aging year after year. We are here to meet those needs. We are working to make a brighter future.”
Consider donating to our organization to help us continue to provide life-changing resources for local families impacted by autism.
Learn about the many ways you can designate your gift.
Thank you for your support.