RBAF’s Holiday Party Gifts Autism Families A Chance to Be Themselves

 RBAF’s Holiday Party Gifts Autism Families  A Chance to Be Themselves

This past Sunday, December 10, Knights of Columbus glittered with smiling faces as scores of families packed in for Rockaway Beach Autism Families Fifth Annual Holiday Party. The festivity was chock-full of food, Irish step dancing performances from O’Malley Irish Dance Academy, presents, a visit from Santa, a free gift raffle for families and more. And the best part? According to a local mom, who attended the event with her son, “I was able to meet other parents, and watch our autistic children have fun with no one judging them. As families, we all got to relax and be ourselves.”

In September 2016, Rockaway local Kami-Leigh Agard started penning her column, “Life With Our ‘Artistic’ Child” about parenting a child on the autism spectrum in The Rockaway Times. Her column got notice as parents of autistic and other special needs individuals started reaching out. Soon, she was hosting monthly parent support group meetings, and thus, Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF) was born. Fast track to today, RBAF hosts not just monthly family support group meetings, but a plethora of educational and recreational activities, including this year’s first-ever walk for autism on the boardwalk. As RBAF’s founder and herself a mother of a nonverbal 15-year-old on the spectrum, Agard said the nonprofit’s overarching goal is not just to build acceptance and provide a nonjudgmental space for families and the general public to learn about autism and share resources, but also to create opportunities for autistic individuals.

“Everyone deserves to live life to the fullest, and at the core of RBAF’s advocacy is to provide meaningful opportunities for autistic individuals. From employment, social supports including mental health, and a sense of belonging in all facets of everyday society—as our motto states—RBAF’s aim is to “Turn the tide for the autism, one wave at a time,” she said.

Numerous businesses, organizations and individuals contributed to the nonprofit’s holiday party, including Knights of Columbus, Rockaway W.I.S.H., The Rockaway Times, Rockaway Waves, Robin Shapiro Realty, O’Malley Irish Dance Academy, Rockaway Beach Dance Company, Tap That, Smoke & Barrel, Harbor Light, Kimo’s Kitchen, Ship to Shore Wine Shop, Arizona Beverages, NY Transit Museum, the Chang Family, the Moroney Family, Suzanne O’Rahilly, Kathleen Lockwood, Erin Walsh, amongst others.

Agard said, “Rockaway never ceases to amaze. With this year’s toy drive, we tried a different route with creating an Amazon wish list, which folks interested in donating a gift could access through a QR code and have the items shipped to us. Autistic individuals have such particular likes, so I asked parents to give input as to what their children would enjoy. Well, within days of putting the call out, I was shocked by the number of packages that were arriving daily. What an outpouring of support and love for the autism community from Rockaway residents, not to mention, the local businesses and organizations. Each door I knocked on, no one turned us away! Again, tremendous props to the crew at Knights of Columbus. This is the fifth year Knights gifted us their space, which is where we hold our monthly family support group meetings. Also, the Best Dressed Man in Rockaway always adds some sparkle to our event with his presence and generous spirit.

“Last, but certainly not least, this event could not have happened without my team at RBAF. I must give a colossal shoutout to our Vice Chair of Special Events, Venus Ramos, for again, truly going above and beyond, and committee members: The Best Dressed Man in Rockaway (Owen Loof), Matthew Wolf, Rojo Rasoari, Rado Rafiringa, Patricia Harvey, Christine Dydzuhn, Ariel Randall, Missy Torres-Echevarría, Joseph Figueroa and Jeanette Peña.”

Agard shared that toys left over from the event will be shipped to an autism advocacy organization RBAF contacted in Lahaina, a city in Maui, Hawaii, that was significantly burned down and still rebuilding after the series of wildfires that occurred in early August this year.

“Autism is global and each time I hear about a horrific disaster happening elsewhere, I think about Hurricane Sandy and what it was like for my daughter. For many autistic individuals, anything veering from their daily routine causes tremendous trauma. So, with families still reported as being displaced from their homes, especially during the holidays, we wanted to help spread some holiday cheer, as people from all over did for us in Rockaway,” she said.

For more information about RBAF, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/ Instagram, or rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org.

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