Last Thursday, December 15, the Knights of Columbus was packed with folks dancing up a storm at Rockaway Beach Autism Families’ 4th Annual Holiday Party. With food, gifts generously donated by local businesses and residents; a visit from Old Saint Nick; master of ceremonies, the Best Dressed Man in Rockaway, and dance performances by Rockaway Beach Dance Company and O’Malley Irish Dance Academy—families were again comfortably celebrating the holidays in a judgment-free environment. And as one autistic 10-year-old boy said, “This is the funnest party ever!”
Though Santa Claus in tow with his sack of toys from the North Pole was the marquee segment of the evening’s program, Rockaway Beach Dance Company and O’Malley Irish Dance Academy electrified the Knights’ dance floor with not just their dance presentations, but also, getting children and adults up to dance! One mom said, “I never thought I would be dancing with my son. This is a moment I’ll forever remember!”
In September 2016, Rockaway local Kami-Leigh Agard started penning her Rockaway Times column, “Life With Our ‘Artistic’ Child” about parenting a child on the autism spectrum. To Agard’s surprise, her column got notice and parents of autistic and special needs individuals started reaching out. Soon she was hosting monthly parent support group meetings, and thus, Rockaway Beach Autism Families was born. Fast track to today, RBAF hosts not just monthly meetings, but a plethora of educational and recreational activities; geared to build autism awareness and acceptance, plus provide a nonjudgmental space for families and the general public to share, learn and have fun.
Agard said, “Rockaway is a gift that keeps on giving. RBAF’s small parent committee pooled our resources to make this party happen, but without the support from local individuals and businesses, we couldn’t have pulled together this event so beautifully. Locals from all walks of life jumped in and donated gifts, and even attended. Plus, tremendous props to Richie and Barbara Knott, and the rest of the crew at the Knights of Columbus. For the fourth year, Richie not only generously gifted us the space, but he and his crew were all hands on deck serving us. Also, the Best Dressed Man in Rockaway, Owen Loof, always adds some sparkle to our event with his presence and generous spirit.
“So many entities helped make our party a success, including The Rockaway Times, Robin Shapiro Realty, Rockaway WISH, Belisario Cruz Reyn Team at Compass, John Gillespie (Santa Claus) and many more. (See ad on page x). Plus, a colossal shoutout to RBAF’s Vice Chair of Special Events, Venus Ramos, for truly going above and beyond, and committee members, Matt Wolf, Patricia Harvey, Christine Dydzuhn, Rojo Rasoari, Rado Rafiringa and the Best Dressed Man in Rockaway.
For Agard, the holiday party is about providing a safe space for the autism community to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. “I want the general public to see autism is not something to be wary about or feel you have to steer clear. The spectrum is so broad, and our autistic community has so much to contribute to society. RBAF’s goal for the New Year is procuring employment for autistic individuals. I’m calling on Rockaway’s business owners to please give them a chance.”
For more information about RBAF, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/ Instagram, or rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org.