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How You Helped Paul Turn Tragedy Into Triumph

Paul Urbanek, who has a developmental disability, has packed a lot of life into his 23 years.

He was born in Brooklyn to Polish immigrant parents, including his mother Alexandra. “My father was abusive and possessive, and my mother realized he was not the right person for her.” Alexandra raised Paul as a single parent, working hard to support them both.

Alexandra showered him with love but she was often stressed about money despite her hard work and long hours. One night in 2018, two days before his 18th birthday, Paul noticed his mom had become unresponsive and her lips were turning blue.  He called 911 but it was too late—Alexandra had passed away from a heart attack in her sleep.

With no extended family in America available to shelter him, Paul entered the foster care system. 

Gaining stability allowed Paul to focus on his academics and social life following his mom’s passing, and he began to thrive at school. 

In October 2020, Paul moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, with the support of AHRC NYC’s Residential Services.

“I wanted independence, with the goal of eventually moving on my own full time,” Paul explained. “At first, I thought it was early, that I had to be 21 and graduated, but everyone said it was good to start now.”

Paul with Angela Williams, Assistant Manager at Paul’s residence

A bright and engaging young man, Paul still needed to learn a few life skills as he transitioned into adulthood.  AHRC NYC residential staff helped Paul immensely with his confidence in accessing the community and becoming a more independent person.

During his last year of high school, Paul was enrolled in Project SEARCH, a one-year, school-to-work high school transition program that takes place entirely in the workplace.

Paul needed to learn how to travel to his workplace, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  AHRC NYC residential staff spearheaded this travel routing effort and within a month Paul was able to use public transportation independently to get to Pratt.  Throughout the year, Paul learned valuable transferable work skills that would help him succeed in employment post-graduation.

Paul graduated as the valedictorian of his class

When he graduated in June of 2022, he was offered a position in the Pratt cafeteria where he continues to work a year later, supported by AHRC NYC’s Employment and Business Services. When Pratt’s cafeteria closes for the summer, Paul works at Bungalow Bar, a restaurant in the Rockaways, running drinks and food, and bussing tables.  Paul enjoys the fast-paced atmosphere and beach vibes there.

Paul now attends Queens College through AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program, where he is enrolled in college courses.

Paul’s goal is to be a paraprofessional and help other students succeed.  Through all of his triumphs, Paul has kept the most important person to him close in mind and spirit.

“I would have liked my mom to see me through this process,” Paul said, “but I know she’s with me every day. Even though there’s no replacing my mother, AHRC has helped me succeed in life and move forward with my goals.”

Paul accepts the Reaching Out Award at AHRC NY Foundation’s annual golf outing in 2023.

In June, Paul was presented with the Reaching Out Award at AHRC NYC Foundation’s annual golf outing.  As he received a standing ovation from the audience, he said, I would like to thank AHRC staff for helping me learn how to travel, helping me with my independent life skills, and supporting me in growing as a person.

AHRC NYC helps people like Paul triumph.

We are so thankful for your support, which has touched the lives of so many children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Because you have been generous in the past, I am asking you to give again now and help AHRC NYC continue its important work.