Undeterred by a weather forecast of rain, this past Sunday, April 23, more than 200 people walked the boardwalk in support of the autism community. This was the first-ever walk for autism in Rockaway, hosted by local autism advocacy organization, Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF). Starting from Beach 96th Street to Beach 126th Street, the boardwalk was awash with people of all ages donning RBAF’s t-shirt stating, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and indeed—the crowd of supporters who showed up for RBAF’s walk—demonstrated that Rockaway’s autism community will never walk alone. Also walking were NYC Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Belle Harbor Property Owners Association President Paul King and Community Board 14 Chairwoman Delores Orr.
Co-sponsor of the walk, Rockaway-based gym, The Fitness Bar, conducted a warmup and cooldown for all walkers by the gym’s owner, Kenny Peña.
Additional co-sponsors were Belisario Cruz Reyn—Compass Realty, Howard Beach Civilian Observation Patrol, Kiwanis Club of Lefferts/Liberty, The Joseph V. Caruana Foundation, Jeremy Bucaria and family, and Empanadas On The Rise, which was also a vendor at the event.
After the walk, RBAF hosted a post-walk celebration with live music featuring The Poorhouse, Chris Solo and DJ Daryl at neighboring restaurant/event space, RBQ.
For RBAF founder, Kami-Leigh Agard, Sunday’s Walk for Autism has been a goal since she founded the organization in 2016. “April is Global Autism Month, and finally, the Rockaway community was blessed with our very own walk in support of the autism community. And what better place than on our beautiful boardwalk, adjacent to the ocean, which we as Rockaway locals, and our visitors, prize dearly.
“There are numerous people who were instrumental in making Rockaway’s first-ever walk for autism a tremendous success. A colossal thanks to RBAF’s board members, Venus Ramos and her son, James; Rojo Rasoari, Christine Dydzuhn, Matt Wolff, Patricia Labossiere, Jeremy Bucaria, The Best Dressed Man in Rockaway, Jeanette Peña, Ariel Randall, Rado Rafiringa; Christine, Jim and John of the Moroney family; co-sponsors, Kenny Peña of The Fitness Bar, Joe Cruz of Belisario Cruz Reyn—Compass Realty; and our local community representatives, Paul King of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, Councilwoman Ariola and her office’s constituent liaison, Margaret Powers; and The Rockaway Times’ managing editor, Katie McFadden. Also, thank you to the bands who crowned RBAF’s post-walk celebration, Mason Porretto of The Poorhouse, Chris Solo and DJ Daryl. In respective capacities, these individuals all truly made RBAF’s First Annual Walk for Autism one for the history books.
“And foremost, I must thank my 14-year-old nonverbal autistic daughter, Soanirina, who is my driving force to keep on pressing on to lift up the autism community,” Agard said.
Rockaway Beach Autism Families is a grassroots organization advocating for acceptance, inclusion, education and employment for autistic individuals and their families. The organization hosts monthly support group meetings with guest speakers providing information about a variety of resources and services. They also host a plethora of recreational activities on the boardwalk, including their annual Rock Out For Autism Music Festival, Dance Out Under The Stars, Halloween Beach Treasure Hunt, and their summer barbecue and end-of-year holiday party at Knights of Columbus.
For more information about RBAF and upcoming events, visit: rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org or @rockawaybeachautismfamilies on Facebook and Instagram.
Photos by Paul King and Katie McFadden