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December 2015 Newsletter

Recognizing Genius

Two new MacArthur Fellows with Trust histories


HOME-GROWN GENIUSES: The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted “Genius Grants” to those showing “extraordinary originality.” This year, we’re proud The New York Community Trust was an early supporter of two from New York. Both use their creativity for the good of others. Alex Truesdell (above) and Gary Cohen (below). Photos courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

ALEX TRUESDELL is demonstrating that when adaptive devices are tailored to a child’s specific needs, they dramatically impact learning, communication, and social development.

Alex, an educator, was working with children with vision impairments when she discovered that expectations shift profoundly when children with disabilities get the custom-modifications they need to overcome challenges. In 1998 she founded the Adaptive Design Association where parents and educators co-create adaptive equipment with designers and fabricators.  One example: portable steps with handrails that help a child transfer in and out of his wheelchair without assistance.

With our first grant in 2002, the Adaptive Design Association began teaching occupational and physical therapists to build child-specific adaptations using common tools and building materials, including corrugated cardboard. Since then, we have given $395,000 to help bring adaptive design concepts and practices to schools in NYC and beyond. 


GARY COHEN wants to improve Americans’ health by allowing fewer toxic chemicals in land, water, and air. We’ve worked closely with Cohen on several projects, starting in 2001, when we funded the Environmental Health Fund (now known as Coming Clean). With our support, the group has been building a national network that makes consumer products safer. We’ve also funded Health Care Without Harm, a group Cohen created to encourage hospitals and other institutions to stop using thermometers with mercury (a neurotoxin), to stop burning toxic waste, and more. Since the late 1990s, the group has helped close 4,500 medical waste incinerators in the U.S. “The Trust was crucial at the start, as we decided how to phase out toxic chemicals," says Cohen.

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