You could say that Michael Huseby understands the importance of an education. As the son of an English teacher, he credits the education he received with not only helping to prepare him for a successful career, but it also moved him to support educational opportunities for others, including recently lending his name to the Quality Services for the Autism Community’s (QSAC) new Michael P. Huseby Autism Center in the Bronx.
As the Executive Chairman for Barnes & Noble Education, Huseby leads a company whose foundations are based on enhancing the academic and social purpose of educational institutions, but it is through his recent philanthropic involvement that he will be affecting the educations of a very special group of students — young adults with autism.
Services for adults with autism exist, but unlike programs provided at the K-12 level, they are not mandated — and there are fewer of them. Combined with increasing government budget cuts, the challenges can be great. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum,” said Joseph Amodea, senior director of development and strategy for QSAC. “In New York City, that number is much higher. Services for children with autism are required in our school systems, but what happens when these children grow up and age out? This center will help to fill that need.”
Founded in 1978 by a group of parents with children who have been diagnosed with autism, QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, as well as their families. Those attending the new Huseby Center will be able to lead more meaningful lives through the social, vocational, educational and recreational programs that will be offered at the center.
Surprisingly, Huseby does not have a personal connection to autism, but it was through a colleague and good friend that he decided to lend his name and support to this important cause. That friend is Kanuj Malhotra, Barnes & Noble Education’s Chief Operating Officer, Digital, and Chief Strategy Officer. “I’ve known Kanuj for a long time. Over the years, we’ve worked many long hours together, like people do, and I learned more about his family, in particular, his brother,” Huseby explained. “Kanuj has a brother with autism who is now 42 years old and you can see how it affects the families.”
As their friendship grew, so did Huseby’s involvement with raising awareness for autism. “Mike has been great lending his time, commitment and his support to this,” said Malhotra, who is also a board member of Life’s WORC/FCA, a Long Island-based nonprofit that provides comprehensive support and services to individuals with developmental disabilities and autism. In December, Huseby was named Man of the Year at the ‘Night of A Million Lights Gala’ in New York. The Gala, a joint fundraiser for Life’s WORC Family Center for Autism (FCA) and QSAC, helped raise over $700,000 for the organizations. “The need is enormous,” said Malhotra. “If you’re not affected by it now, you know or will know someone who is affected by autism. The service need is growing because agencies are funding less and less. If you walk around the center, you’ll see the adults — my brother is part of that population — and to find vocations whether it’s through supported work sites or independent work sites – there’s just a huge gap.”
Examples of supported work sites can be found at several Barnes & Noble College (a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble Education) bookstores on the campuses of Hofstra University, Long Island University and Vanderbilt University. The bookstores have all partnered with local programs to provide supervised work opportunities for young adults with autism, as well as other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ray McGale, regional manager for Barnes & Noble College, who attended the opening of the Huseby Center, acknowledged the new facility will provide a much needed service for families affected by autism. “Education and work opportunities are so important to this group of young people,” McGale said, noting that he also has a nephew in his twenties with autism. “It allows them to develop their social skills, acquire job training, but more importantly, to be a part of the community.”
With its ability to offer more comprehensive life-skills training and education, the Huseby Center underscores both how significant the need is for students and how little support is generally available. According to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half of those on the autism spectrum did not work or attend school in the two years after high school, 79 percent lived with their parents, and 60 percent received some therapy and counseling. However, nearly 40 percent received no services at all.
The new center will help to fill those gaps and provide expanded services and facilities to the Bronx community through a Day Habilitation Program for adults with autism. A school for students with autism, ages 5-21 years, is set to open in September 2016, and nearly 200 children and adults with autism will be supported by the new center. “Education is very consistent with the mission to lift people up with job training, skills training — it’s all education. It’s helping students reach their fullest potential,” said Huseby. “I’m not an expert in autism or what they do. I just try to support it and hope that we can make a real difference.”