Participants in this year’s Autism Walk.
When the Southern Brooklyn community wants to raise awareness for a good cause, they know how to do it – even in stormy weather.
On Sunday, May 19, approximately 170 Southern Brooklyn locals gathered at the New York Aquarium to walk 1.2 miles of the boardwalk to Coney Island Avenue. Together, they marched until Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton Beach to raise awareness for autism.
Lilach Koch, the Special Needs Program director at the Shorefront Y, said that walks like this are vital to create greater knowledge and education about autism, as well as raise funds.
“This will create a community that recognizes and accepts individuals with autism and supports their families,” Koch said.
The three main goals of the walk? To educate, to recognize, and to gain support for the programs for disabilities.
“It’s important that the leaders of the community understand that it’s a great cause. We are here. We need your support. These programs are scarce,” Koch said.
Two other local Jewish Community Centers – the JCH of Bensonhurst and Kings Bay Y – collaborated on the effort.
Autism is a developmental disorder of brain function. Characteristics typically include impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
According to AutismSpeaks.org, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify 1 in 88 American children on the autism spectrum. Statistically, there are more children affected by autism than diabetes, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome combined.
The event saw well known community figures like Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and a host of community volunteers.
“Our mission is to strengthen the skills of our clients and support them and their families from early childhood to adulthood. We believe in our developmentally disabled clients and direct them to become more independent, functional and happy individuals,” Koch added.
Koch explained that many of these programs are free to the community, and that Southern Brooklyn families cannot afford many of the more expensive options available.
“We do understand our families’ needs on both the practical and emotional levels, and we constantly seek for channels to provide families with as many free and low cost services and programs as possible,” said Koch.
Karreell Pereira, a Shorefront Y member, visits the community center weekly with her husband and young boys. Her two sons, age seven and eight, were at the event as well, supporting after-school classmates.
“It means a lot to me, being around other parents. It opens my eyes. It shows me how other parents operate, and shows me how blessed I am,” Pereira said. “We are capable of making a drastic change. These programs need to be nourished and should be promoted.”
“They love it here,” she said. “It opens their eyes to what’s really going on in our community. It helps you see not only your situation, but other people’s situations.”
Currently, the Shorefront Y offers free after-school programs for children ages 5 to 13, a Sunday Funday social skills recreational program for children ages 5 to 12, and a series of other educational workshops for parents and families. They hope to support families in need.
Michelle Pisani-Hinojo said that rain or shine, she will support this walk for years to come. Her 11-year-old daughter, Amber, has autism.
“The weather put a damper on the event, but not on the spirit. It makes me feel like I’m not alone. The public is becoming aware. It feels good that people are willing to work together for awareness,” Pisani-Hinojo said.
“It’s symbolic, you know? Some days will be sunny days, and other day’s it’ll rain,” Pisani-Hinojo said. “Even on the bad days, you need to stay strong and still be supportive. We can’t give up.”