Twelve years ago this fall, when my severely autistic boy was four, a flier came home from school in his backpack. I skimmed it and almost tossed it, as the thought of joining any kind of group a half hour away at that point in my life seemed pure folly. I had a four-year-old autistic son and an infant at home, and as much as I liked to do things with Justin and get him out into the community as often as possible, this seemed a bit out of my reach.
And yet, the group activities for autistic kids were held in the building behind my church, a venue I was confident I could find (half the battle for me). I put it on my “possible” list of things to do, and when the day approached, I drove out to Colts Neck on a Thursday night and hoped for the best.
Thus started my love affair with Someone Special Needs You.
For years Vince and Gina Scanelli held monthly events where autistic children could come, do crafts, eat, play, and feel free to be themselves. Justin generally behaved at these events where he was paired with a buddy (usually a lovely teenaged girl, which he enjoyed), giving me the opportunity to network with other parents. Sometimes there was a full-fledged carnival; most years trick-or-treating in the church’s graveyard; and Santa never failed to pay a visit. It was an hour I looked forward to every month, and I am certain Justin did too.
Over time SSNY expanded to include adults, and its focused shifted as well. Now there are only two nighttime events held annually (a full-fledged yummy Thanksgiving meal and a visit from St. Nick), but Vince and Gina use the money raised from fundraisers to plan wonderful events for autistic individuals and their families. Last summer they took thirty-seven autistic adults and children and forty-three caregivers to Hershey Park for a weekend, a wonderful trip particularly as some of the adults had not been on vacation for years. This past January over one hundred individuals were treated to Medieval Times for an evening (both of my kids actually enjoyed the event, a miracle!), and it was wonderful to see how excited they were to witness jousting and eat some really good chicken (it’s all about the food for me).
I’m writing this week to tell all of you about their annual fundraiser, a walk they traditionally hold in Spring Lake. This year it is Saturday June 15th from 9:30 to 12:00 at the intersection of Warren and 5th avenues (you will see everybody gathered, you can’t miss them!). My youngest son and I have attended almost every year and continue to support this organization and all the good work they do. Vince always puts the money to good use, and I am confident he will use this year’s take to fund yet another great trip or event for autistic adults and their families in the future.
The link to their website is here: https://ssny.org/. My youngest and I will be there next week, hope to see you too!
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