This past Sunday, August 27th, Bayswater Park was filled with the sounds of shouts and laughter at Rockaway Beach Autism Families’ Third Annual End-of-Summer BBQ Fun Day! Fundraiser. From potato bag, egg and spoon, and ice cream cone relay races, life-sized Jenga, ring toss, corn hole, sensory table, arts and crafts, face painting with RBAF member, William Hernandez, and more—this year’s event was chock-full of activities for children on the autism spectrum, and their family and friends to enjoy. Plus, every child went home with a back-to-school gift and medals for all the races.
Founded in 2016, Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for children and adults on the autism spectrum to become a part of their community. “Oftentimes, people think that if they know one person with autism, then they know autism. However, the more you’re around people with autism, the more it is understood that it’s a wide spectrum, and each individual has his/her own unique personalities and special abilities. Since founding RBAF and meeting more individuals, I can attest that the spectrum is as vast as the universe. So, whether it’s in a public park, the beach concessions or a local cafe—RBAF is out in the community as much as we can to show the community this is what autism is, this is what our children and adults can do, and that they deserve to be included in the heartbeat of the community,” RBAF founder, Kami-Leigh Agard said.
Another main component of the event was the sensory activities, such as hand play with shaving cream or raw rice and beans. Sensory items help autistic children and adults process information neurologically and send the messages to the rest of their body. “Having the general populace see these sensory products and realizing the value of them is a benefit to understanding autism. For example, if you see someone in a store that’s stimming, or flapping their hands, but they calm down after holding a sensory rubber noodle or wearing noise-canceling headphones, people will understand that the autistic individual was having sensory overload to noise or a crowded room and needed something to help calm them down. Opportunities such as these are teaching moments for everyone,” Agard said.
For this year’s event, RBAF collaborated with Bay 84th Community Garden, who brought the FDNY Foundation Fire Safety Unit. The officers spoke and gave out materials to the children and families about the critical importance of fire and life safety education.
According to Agard, many entities contributed in helping make RBAF’s barbecue fun day a success. “I have to say, Rockaway is blessed. A heartfelt thanks to The Rockaway Times for getting the word about the event, Chef Andrew Pagano a.k.a. The Pie Guy, who rolled up his sleeves and valiantly bore the heat while grilling all the meats, our RBAF resident face painter, William Hernandez, Kimo’s Kitchen, Hillel and Jonathan Roberts and Bay 84th Community Garden. Plus, none of our events could happen without the collaborative efforts of RBAF’s event planning committee members: Venus Ramos, Rojo Rasoari, Matt Wolf, Christine Dydzuhn, Ariel Randall, Rado Rafiringa, Jeremy Bucaria, Jeanette Peña and the Best Dressed Man in Rockaway,” she said.
For more information about RBAF and upcoming events, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram or www.rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org. Stay tuned for RBAF’s Autism Team Maui Benefit for the autism community affected by the fires in Maui.