NYU Silver Partners with Tech Kids Unlimited to Add Social Work Support to Its Technology Programs for Special Needs Kids

Tech Kids Unlimited Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Kristin Pleines, DSW '19, works with two of the organization's Creative Technologist Interns.
Tech Kids Unlimited Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Kristin Pleines, DSW '19, works with two of the organization's Creative Technologist Interns.

NYU Silver’s Office of Field Learning and Community Partnerships prides itself on both providing rich, well-supervised experiential training to our students and helping social service and health agencies, schools, and other organizations provide optimal services to vulnerable populations. The office’s collaboration with Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU), a not-for-profit technology-based educational organization for young people ages 7 to 21 with special needs, is an exceptional example of that commitment.

Executive Director Beth Rosenberg founded TKU in 2009 for kids like her son, who learn differently and love technology but lacked opportunities to develop digital skills. Piloted at the Manhattan JCC, in 2013 the organization secured a home at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, where Rosenberg is on the adjunct faculty. TKU works in partnership with the Department of Technology, Culture & Society at NYU Tandon and is now located at The NYU Ability Project in downtown Brooklyn.

In part with funding from the NYU Community Fund, the organization now serves over 350 young people with autism spectrum disorder, learning and emotional disabilities, and processing challenges. It offers distinct programming for kids ages 7-13 and teens ages 14-21, with the former focused on learning computer science principles and developing bonds with like-minded peers and the latter focused on applying their knowledge through work-based learning experiences to gain job skills.

NYU Silver’s Assistant Dean of Field Learning & Community Partnerships Dr. Peggy Morton, who serves on the NYU Community Fund proposal review committee, met Rosenberg a couple of years ago at a reception for grant recipients. “Beth is a force of nature,” said Dr. Morton. “Someone introduced us at the reception, and she said to me, ‘I want your student interns.’”

Dr. Morton was familiar with Tech Kids Unlimited through her involvement with the NYU Community Fund and recognized the social work training opportunity the organization presented. After all, the kids in the program face all the usual childhood, adolescent, and family issues with the overlay of social, learning, and/or emotional challenges.

Still, she could not fulfill Rosenberg’s request for interns on the spot. To qualify as a field learning site, an agency must not only have a social work student program with standards and a philosophy acceptable to NYU Silver, the Council on Social Work Education, and the professional community, but must also have a licensed social worker with at least three years post-graduate agency social work experience to serve as the student interns’ field instructor.

Undeterred, Rosenberg committed to seek funding to hire a part-time licensed social worker to work with program participants and serve as the agency’s educational coordinator and field instructor. “Beth would never give up,” Dr. Morton said, “Her kids have big needs and she is determined to get them supports necessary to meet them.” In the meantime, Dr. Morton and Clinical Assistant Professor Anne Dempsey, who had visited the program and were inspired by what they saw, became informal social work advisors with whom Rosenberg could consult around questions and concerns about the kids.

Ultimately, Rosenberg identified a prospective funding source with the Joseph Leroy and Ann C. Warner Fund, which gives grants to organizations improving the lives of children with disabilities and children in foster care. The Fund’s Executive Director, Joseph Madonia. LCSW, CASAC, is both an NYU Silver alum (MSW ’99) and a longtime Adjunct Lecturer. Rosenberg submitted a proposal for a grant to fund a part-time Licensed Clinical Social Worker who could also supervise social work interns and Dr. Morton joined Rosenberg in a meeting about the request with Madonia and the Fund’s president.

The Warner Fund approved the organization’s funding request in 2018, and after vetting a number of candidates, Rosenberg hired NYU Silver Doctorate of Social Welfare (DSW) student Kristin Pleines, LCSW. In addition to being in her final year of the DSW program, Pleines is an experienced psychotherapist specializing in trauma, attachment, and play therapy, who has worked with children with Autism and their families. Pleines began working at Tech Kids Unlimited in mid-August 2018, which enabled the organization to bring on a social work intern, who works 21 hours a week, for the 2018-19 academic year.

As a result of NYU Silver’s true partnership, Tech Kids Unlimited is now able to provide the young people it serves with essential social support, behavioral and mental health counseling, parental guidance, and other services that foster their success within the program and in life.