Locals “Hang 10 for Autism” On The Boardwalk

 Locals “Hang 10 for Autism” On The Boardwalk

By Kami-Leigh Agard

This past Sunday, April 21, was a cloudy, windy day, yet scores jubilantly showed their love for the autism community at the “Hang 10 for Autism Walk” on the boardwalk. This was the second-ever walk for autism on Rockaway’s boardwalk co-hosted by Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF) and Rockaway St. Camillus Special Olympics (RSO). Starting from Beach 95th Street to Beach 126th Street and back, leading the parade of walkers was The Best Dressed Man In Rockaway; RBAF member, James Lewter; and RSO founder, Joe Featherston with Scholars’ Academy Marching Band turning up the heat with their rhythm section. This year’s walk also featured over 20 vendors lining the boardwalk selling a variety of novelty items from candles, jewelry, cookies, plus more, all organized by Jacob Zuniga of Empanadas On The Rise in Howard Beach.

After the walk, RBAF hosted a celebration at local restaurant/entertainment space, Tap That, which was packed with walkers eating and drinking, while vibing to live music from Mixed Bag and country music sensation, Lauren Jaimes.

For RBAF founder, Kami-Leigh Agard, Sunday’s “Hang 10 for Autism Walk” is a testament to Rockaway’s love for the autism community. “April is Autism Acceptance Month, and as a parent, it’s such a joy to see how many people, whether or not they have a family member or friend on the autism spectrum, come out to show their love and acceptance. Parenting a child on the autism spectrum or any special needs can sometimes be a very lonely and isolating journey, so to see people come out to support in solidarity with the community is so uplifting. And what better place than on the boardwalk which brings people from all walks of life together,” she said.

According to Agard, numerous people were instrumental in making Rockaway’s second-ever walk for autism a tremendous success including: Joe Featherston, founder of Rockaway Special Olympics; Scholars’ Academy’s Assistant Principal ToniMarie Viera, Kimberly Newman and the marching band team; Tap That owner, John Agnello; Jacob Zuniga of Empanadas On The Rise, Mary Glynn of Rewired for Autism; and Joe Cruz and Louis Belisario of Revived Residential.

“I was so honored to have Rockaway Special Olympics as a partner for this year’s walk. For decades, RSO’s Joe Featherston has been such a beacon for the special needs community, who sincerely cares about our community and shows it, not with just words, but actions.

“Also, colossal thanks to RBAF Chair of Special Events Venus Ramos, who again and again, goes above and beyond to make our events a success. And of course, RBAF’s event planning committee: Rojo Rasoari, Christine Dydzuhn, Matt Wolf, Patricia Labossiere, The Best Dressed Man in Rockaway, Jeanette Peña, Ariel Randall, Rado Rafiringa; and kudos to Jeremy Bucaria, who came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a vendor fair at the walk.

“Thank you to John Agnello of Tap That, who graciously accommodated the walk’s after-party, and bands, Mixed Bag and Lauren Jaimes, who gifted their music to the celebrations. Also, The Rockaway Times, who has not only blessed me with the platform to reach out to the community about autism through my column, “Life With Our ‘Artistic Child,” but in promoting the Walk and other events RBAF hosts throughout the year.

“And foremost, thank you to my 15-year-old autistic daughter, Soanirina, who is my driving force to keep pressing on to uplift the autism community,” Agard said.

Founded in 2016, 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 family support group meetings with guest speakers providing information about a variety of resources and services. RBAF also hosts 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, summer barbecue and end-of-year holiday party at Knights of Columbus. Also this year, as part of Autism Acceptance Month, the organization hosted its inaugural, “Free Haircuts for Autism” at new local barbershop/beauty salon, His & Hers. For more information about RBAF and upcoming events, visit: rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org or rockawaybeachautismfamilies on Facebook/Instagram.

Under the steadfast leadership of local lifelong educator Joe Featherston, the St. Camillus gym was approved as an official Rockaway Special Olympics (RSO) training site in 1996, where athletes and their family members have been attending the weekly Monday sessions ever since. The RSO meets at St. Camillus gym Monday evenings, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Athletes play a plethora of games, including floor hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, ping pong, and more. Also, the group participates in a number of community events, from the annual Graybeards Family Run, the Rockaway Little League Parade and The Little North Pole. For more information about Rockaway Special Olympics, email: jfspecialolympic@aol.com


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