What does the Rockaway peninsula and Broad Channel lack for special-needs children and their families?
Trishia Bermudez, a local mom of five-year-old Matthew with chromosome 3 deletion, and founder and CEO of Perfect Piece of the Puzzle, Inc., (PPOP), is pulling no punches in her determination to find out, and change the local community from a barren desert — to a bountiful oasis — providing support, services and resources for all families with special-needs children.
This past Saturday, July 15 at Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato’s Rockaway Beach office, PPOP hosted a workshop and focus group, funded by a grant from the Citizens Committee for NYC, with a panel of Department of Education (DOE) specialists, service providers, local parents and caregivers to hear what is needed locally to empower and elevate families with special-needs children.
From a safe space to schooling to recreational activities and all-around holistic support — locals were very vocal about what they want for their special-needs children.
“We need recreational activities for our special children,” said one parent with a child on the autism spectrum, who founded the Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families support group as a platform for parents to share and learn what is available for their children.
“My daughter, though nonverbal, is athletic, and there aren’t any appropriate sports-related activities for her locally. I got her into a special-needs gymnastics program in Brooklyn, but besides being far from home and ex
pensive, the program literally kicked her out because they couldn’t handle her energy level and need for more one-to-one direction,” she said.
Other caregivers spoke about the need for respite care in a safe space, where parents can assuredly drop their children off, while they enjoy a few hours of reprieve. "I am a grandmom of a child with autism, and I see what my son and his wife go through. Yes, being a parent is a 24-hour, lifetime job. However, when you throw something like autism in the mix, it is even more intense. I see the constant stress my son and his wife are under. Meal and bath times are explosive. It would be nice to have a place locally where parents can have that ‘let my hair down moment,’ where they could have a few hours of reprieve while their child is in a safe space having fun,” she said.
Other parents voiced their concerns about the lack of training and commitment from direct support professionals (DSPs), sent by special-needs service agencies outside of Rockaway.
“Many of those DSPs, are young girls just out of high school, who see their job as better than flipping burgers,” said one parent. “Most of them, who live in the Bronx, Brooklyn or other parts of Queens, only get a mere four hours of agency training, and after a few months quit with the excuse that Rockaway is too far of a commute. Who can blame them, especially since they only get a hourly wage of $11 to take care of children and adults requiring a high level of care and dedication,” she said.
Other parents complained about the public school education system. “We need more direction and support with the DOE’s District 75 school system. Rockaway only has a few schools, and you see some children being placed in a 6 to 1 ratio ‘fishbowl’ classroom setting, while others are thrown into a general classroom setting with no services, and ultimately get lost in the system, and even bullied because of their disability. It’s heartbreaking, and ultimately our children need more!” another parent exclaimed.
“Assemblywoman Pheffer Amato shared that she once worked in the local schools as a paraprofessional for special-needs students. “I understand your frustration. As a paraprofessional, I witnessed how these children and families were in constant crisis because of the lack of progression. What Trishia is doing, starting from a grassroots level, is what really precipitates effective momentum to make change in a positive direction,” Pheffer Amato said.
Florence Ferguson, president of the Friends of the 59th Street Playground Association, of whom Bermudez is also a board member board, said, “Light bulbs are flashing in my head. After listening to all of you, I understand your needs and frustration. Why not get the local YMCA, churches and other organizations with the space available for what our special-needs community needs?”
Bermudez founded PPOP after her frustration with finding services locally for her son. (For more background, see article, “Putting the Pieces Together for Special-Needs Children,” Agard, K. (February 9, 2017) in The Rockaway Times: http://www.rockawaytimes.com).
“All of the services I am receiving for my son are not in Rockaway. As a single-parent and working mom, it is hard. In fact, after my son was literally thrown out of several daycares due to the high level of care he needed, I thankfully got him in one at St. Mary’s Children Hospital in Bayside. However, it is 21 miles away with a long commute that has me stressed and feeling disempowered,” Bermudez said. “And now, because he is turning five, I am battling with the DOE to place him in private school.
“My mom, Brenda Brathwaite, who is my biggest support and serves as POPP’s board president, witnessed my struggles in securing quality services for Matthew, and motivated me to create something for other parents like me, frustrated with the lack of resources and services in Rockaway for their special-needs children. I want the community to know that we are here, and want to know what you think is needed in the community,” Bermudez said.