The group that has spent the last eight years creating a haven for the families of autistic children is now itself looking for a new home in Queens.
“We’re about giving people a sense of belonging. I want to open that up to as many people as possible,” said Andrew Baumann, president of the Ozone Park based New York Families for Autistic Children and father of a 13 year old autistic boy.
Formed by five families that supported, educated and assisted each other as they searched for care for their children, the nonprofit organization brings resources and services under one umbrella for both children with the condition and their families.
But the group’s administrators envision expanding the list of services and activities by constructing an indoor and outdoor recreation facility on 2 or 3 acres somewhere in the borough for its 4,200 member families.
The family integrated activities that the organization looks to offer at the proposed Parent and Family Community Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities include soccer, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, arts and crafts and a variety of exercises on a track and field center.
These activities will be added to the services now offered, including autism screenings, workshops on public and private sector services and disability laws, parent to parent support groups and family education activities.
New York Families for Autistic Children is considering locations in Jackson Heights, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park, among other places, but Baumann said the group is open to moving anywhere in the borough if presented with the right situation.
Two of the organization’s chief considerations are ample parking and proximity to public transportation—many families depend on Ozone Park’s buses to take advantage of the multi lingual, multi cultural services.
The new complex would include, in addition to the recreational areas, educational, therapeutic, medical and administrative wings. Baumann was unsure whether the operation currently in Ozone Park would relocate to the administrative wing of the new facility.
“This new facility would mean so much to our kids and our families,” said Cheryl Marsh of Glendale, mother of an 11 year old autistic girl, Victoria. Marsh’s family, including Victoria’s two sisters, regularly participate in programs through the organization that she refers to as an extension of her family.
“Victoria loves to swim,” Marsh said. “It lets her get into the pool and be in society, be a part of a group where she won’t be judged.”
Victoria Marsh and other children in the group currently swim at Jamaica Avenue’s YMCA. Recreational activities are spread throughout the borough, but the new complex, which would include a pool, would allow programs to be centralized.
Because many autistic children are classified as flight risks, parents, grandparents and friends would be at ease with the knowledge that their loved one is on safe, secured ground.
While Baumann estimates that 60 percent of his organization’s families are from Queens, the group serves autistic children from Long Island and all five boroughs and opens its doors to any family in need.
New York Families for Autistic Children received a $1.5 million appropriation from the New York City Council’s Queens discretionary funds last year, an appropriation spearheaded by Jackson Heights Councilman Hiram Monserrate.
Other supporters include the Southwest Queens Rotary Club, Citibank, Angels on the Bay, New York Community Bank, as well as several elected officials, who regularly allocate funds from their discretionary budgets.
On May 25, WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Chris Russo raised $12,000 for the group through an auction for a VIP Mets tickets package.
New York Families for Autistic Children’s search comes amid an alarming rise in the number of documented cases of the condition. During the 1992 1993 school year, there were 1,648 children ages 6 21 diagnosed with autism in New York state. There were over 7,000 children diagnosed with autism in the state last year. Nationally, one in every 2,500 young people were diagnosed with the condition in 1997. This year that number has grown to one in every 160 children.
To reach New York Families for Autistic Children, call (718) 641 3441.