23 Aug 2014
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Family Center for Autism Kicks Off 2014 With 'Tidal Wave of Support'

Family Center for Autism Kicks Off 2014 With 'Tidal Wave of Support'
In contrast to many non-profits and charitable organizations which are suffering from the distressed economy, The Family Center For Autism is starting 2014 with a tidal wave of support.

Construction rehab renovation is underway at 1517 Franklin Avenue, a building which historically housed many Garden City law offices given its proximity to both Nassau County Police Headquarters and the court system.

The Family Center For Autism has been launched by its next door neighbor at 1501 Franklin Avenue, Life's WORC, which was established 44 years ago. Life's WORC provide services to some 700 people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities through a staff of more than 400.

The agency operates 36 group residences throughout western Suffolk County, Nassau County and eastern Queens, along with 14 other non-residential programs.

Victoria Schneps, editor/publisher of the Queens Courier, started Life's WORC as a response to the lack of services for her late special needs daughter. Schneps was assisted by broadcast journalist icon Geraldo Rivera, a West Babylon native.

Spearheading The Family Center For Autism is New York City business owner Rick Del Mastro, a former chairman for many years at Life's WORC.

"Since Life's WORC provides services to autistic people on the developmental disabilities spectrum, and given the increased population of autistic people being diagnosed, it is our belief that The Family Center For Autism with its focus is the logical expansion for Life's WORC," he said.

Del Mastro has been able to secure a $1 million anonymous gift and the Michael W. McCarthy Foundation has made a $500,000 pledge, $50,000 per year for 10 years.

Other corporate and individual contributions are regularly coming in, including CVS Caremark Corporation, which has provided $5,000.

The Family Center is already about 25 percent of the way through a "brick" donation program with name IDs for individuals, families and companies. Matt Zebatto, assistant executive director at Life's WORC, observes that a number of families who take care of autistic people have begun reaching out to The Family Center For Autism.

"Many families are frustrated, perplexed because they do not feel centers for developmental disabilities are the most effective settings for autistic people who are often challenged with behavioral and emotional problems - but demonstrate extraordinary intelligence, skills and capabilities," Zebatto said.

"Meanwhile, most public school districts cannot afford to provide more than just the basic requirements in line with New York State standards for special needs children. So despite a school's efforts, many times the autistic students and their parents feel they have missed out, get ostracized or feel out-of-place."

Zebatto said a major difference between The Family Center when compared with treatment, programs, training and activities which are available now is that the center is "family-centric."

"Data shows that 85 percent of parents divorce, break up when an autistic child is diagnosed," he said. "This family distress causes increased pressure and difficulty in raising the autistic child. Our goal is to address these circumstances."

Inquiries about enrollment in The Family Center For Autism should be made by calling Rosemary Barlone or Anna Trent at 741-9000.

For more information visit  www.thefamilycenterforautism.org.

Submitted by Danny Frank

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