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All About Kids: Thirty Years Strong

Written by Zach Grossfeld

Thirty years ago, All About Kids was born. Since then, Michael and Cathy Grossfeld have been the head of a family that has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children and young adults. Here’s how it all started. 

Queens College

Mike Grossfeld cut class occasionally in the summer of 1975.  A short trip from Jones beach, he and his friends baked in the sun on the shores of Long Island. Despite prodding from his pal Danny, Mike chose the classroom over the ocean breeze on June 5th. He couldn’t afford another absence from the Queens College speech course.

Sitting up front with Danny, Mike whipped his head around and locked eyes on a woman in the back row. “I’m going to marry her,” he told Danny. That woman turned out to be Cathy Grossfeld, Mike’s future wife and business partner. After class, Cathy asked Mike if he needed help to catch up on notes for an upcoming test. She noticed his absences.

At the time, both Cathy and Mike were pursuing a speech and language degree. Mike started school pre-med but opted out of doctorhood. “I wanted to study a related field that still helped people,” he says. His work with stroke patients steered him towards speech pathology. Stroke lesions have a high correlation to language symptoms. “As a speech pathologist, you can do an assessment of speech and determine where the stroke lesion is,” says Mike.

Cathy entered the speech field after witnessing how a speech therapist helped her friend’s sister with down syndrome. The therapist changed the family dynamics, breaking down barriers of communication. “My friend’s sister became more a part of the family,” says Cathy. “At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do.”

Queens College (@collegecompare)

After assisting at a dental practice to pay for Queens College, Cathy worked at the Nassau Center for the Developmentally Disabled. Students at the center ranged from preschoolers to young adults. Many were non-verbal, limited in language, and cognitively impaired. Working with preschoolers at Queens College, Cathy connected with children in the early development stage.

At the Center, she founded and directed Project Growth, the Center’s first preschool program with fifty special needs children. Pairing the project with leading minds in the field, Cathy coordinated a three-day, international symposium on autism research and practices. “It was my proudest moment at the Center,” she says.

The Birth of All About Kids

Later consulting for the Long Island Jewish Child Development Center, Cathy evaluated infants and preschoolers arena style. Instead of rotating from evaluator to evaluator, the children would sit before a team of psychologists and therapists. With encouragement from colleagues in the field, Cathy opened her own early intervention agency in 1988. “Queens College really impacted how I set up the agency,” she says. “I was surrounded by the top advisors and was mentored very closely.”

Founding All About Kids, she arranged a cramped office in her home. She squeezed out enough space for a skinny file cabinet, her childhood desk, and a fax machine. “I remember hearing the first fax when I started,” she says. Children soon began visiting the office for assessments and progressed quickly. “One boy was 90% echolalic when he came to me,” says Cathy. “By the time he was five, 80% of his language was spontaneous.”

In the early stages, the business moved forward on the guts on Cathy and Mike. They each put down $5,000, a significant dent in net worth at the time, to spur All About Kids into motion. At the onset, money flowed in slowly from government billing. Personal savings floated costs and staff salary.  “It was scary using our own funds,” says Cathy.

Along with learning cash flow, hiring, and training, Mike and Cathy were raising their first of three children. On the morning Cathy called to request the county application to open the business, she had no one to watch her 18-month-old son. “I had on pajamas and held Matthew in the rocking seat,” she says. “I propped a bottle in his mouth with towels around it, so it didn’t fall out.” With the other hand free, she called and received the application. “Luckily, Matthew didn’t cry,” she laughs.

As more children poured into the office, Cathy needed help. She hired a woman to file paperwork and answer phones. Every morning, Cathy set up a folding table at the edge of her bed for the assistant. “It was the only space I had,” she says. Taking on more staff with a second baby on the way, Cathy and Mike moved houses. She picked a property with a basement spacious enough for more employees. “Even though I worked at home, I got up every morning and dressed like I was going into the office,” says Cathy

Computer Aided Therapy

Coming on informally, Mike helped manage payroll and back-office work for All About Kids. Before joining Cathy, he worked as a Hospital Administrator at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. Mike set up Apple Computers for stroke victims who would relearn how to speak, spell, and follow directions. The patients practiced on computers between therapy sessions.

Needing funds for extra computers, Mike wrote to Apple highlighting the progress that stroke victims had made using their machines. Cupertino headquarters then shipped back six Apple II series computers for free, allowing Mike to set up a lab.

Apple II Series (Museé Bolo)

At this point, hospitals did not widely adopt computers as an option for disabled patients. Arlene Kraat, Mike’s colleague, used an augmentative computer device to work with a quadriplegic woman in a supposed vegetative state. Unresponsive before the device, the woman appeared brain dead. She began to speak through the computer by tapping the right side of her cheek on a motor switch. The device constantly scanned the alphabet as the cheek tap indicated the desired letter. These letters built words into phrases, revealing her fully alive mind. “People thought she had no ability to understand,” says Mike. “It turns out she was very intelligent and aware.”

Mike Joins The Team

Furthering the push for computer-aided therapy, Mike and Cathy taught a graduate course at Adelphi on the use of computers to treat language disorders. They later co-authored the book Microcomputer Applications in Rehabilitation of Communicative Disorders. Making strides in this field, Mike advanced to Hospital Administrator at Goldwater coordinating information services. He then revamped the information services system at Huntington Hospital as the Director of Info Systems. Still helping Cathy off the books, Mike left the hospital in 1995 to join All About Kids as a partner.

All About Kids Sensory Gym (Plainview)

Even with the setbacks of starting a business, the milestones balance the stresses. One of Cathy’s earliest patients came to her as a non-verbal three-year-old. By the time the child left, he was forming spontaneous speech. A decade later, Cathy ran into the child’s mom at the supermarket on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah. He went from not saying a word, to reciting the Torah in front of dozens of friends and family. “Kids come to us for service, then they leave,” says Cathy. “Seeing progress from the parents’ perspective, impacting a whole family, makes everything worth it.”

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