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Kids Need a Voice: An Interview with Kristin Abbate

Written by John White

Kristin Abbate is a Behavioral Specialist who teaches at Hauppauge High School. For the past six years she has managed the Practical Assessment Exploration System Program (PAES), which is a vocational training program for students with disabilities. The PAES Program provides a comprehensive framework along with the tools to provide students with hands-on educational experiences.  We spoke with Kristin to learn more about the Hauppauge Hounds activity she put together with her students.

Q: What prompted you to tackle this project: Hauppauge Hounds?

The students (ages 16 to 21) I work with in the PAES program are here in an extended day school to learn certain life skills like shopping, cooking, money handling and the like.  In the past we would go as a group to supermarkets, purchase groceries, prepare food in class and eat a communal meal.  The COVID pandemic put a damper on much of that so we needed to come up with an alternative that the students would enjoy and still teach those life skills.

Q: What was the plan?

We decided to bake peanut-free dog biscuits and sell them at school and in the community as a fundraiser for our program.  The peanut-free content was for the protection of the children.  In a socially-distanced setting (and with masks) the kids learned how to bake the biscuits from a recipe.  They also packaged and labeled the treats for sale.  We ended up making over 20 batches per week and sold hundreds of bags.

Q: How did you sell them?

We held after-school sales at a kiosk that we set up at the high school and also created a website that enabled people to pre-order them through Google Forms. All told we raised over $500 which went directly back to the students (as gift cards) and to the program itself.  The response was terrific.

Q: Do all of your students have dogs?

Not all, but many did.  However, everyone knew families who had a dog and that was who they initially reached out to.

Q: Will you repeat the project or are there other future plans?

Yes, absolutely.  If we bake the dog biscuits again we are thinking about making holiday shaped treats and selling them at the high school’s Holiday Boutique later this year.  We might also do something a little different like beaded bracelets.

Q: What was the most important outcome for you with this project?

These are kids with special needs and anything we can do to help them become a more functioning part of our society is really important.  I’ve learned that kids need a voice in addition to their parents and we’re here to provide that resource and to be a guiding light for them.

Our interviewer, John White, is a long time Hauppauge resident who recently retired from a rewarding career as a pharmacist, clinician, and pharmaceutical industry consultant.  In addition to his work with the Hauppauge Public Library, John volunteers his time with St. Thomas More’s youth ministry and the Boy Scouts of America.  In his spare time, John is an avid reader, an active runner, and loves to travel.

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