BY LUIS GRONDA
Although Andrew Baumann is leading the way for the success of the New York Families for Autistic Children Center, he credits the collaborative effort of his team for the center’s rise.
The NYFAC center opened its doors in April 2013, several months after their original planned date.
The delay was caused by the floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy. Much like the rest of Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach and the Rockaway Peninsula, NYFAC suffered extensive damage from the storm. The building’s entire first floor was flooded with four feet of water, delaying its November 2012 opening by five months.
“We were two weeks away from opening. We had everything set up and ready to go, and then Sandy came,” Baumann said.
According to Baumann, the center’s president and Chief Executive Officer, the establishment suffered about $285,000 in damages from the storm.
Persevering through the difficulty of picking up the pieces after the storm, the center eventually cut the ribbon to its doors and has quickly established itself as a force in the autism community, as well as a servant for Howard Beach and the rest of the Borough.
Baumann began what eventually became the NYFAC center back in 1996, when he and his wife, Pamela, learned that their son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism. The diagnosis made him realize that he needed to get involved in helping his son, and others who are dealing with the disease in their family as well, he said.
Baumann said they started by opening an autism support group at the Heartshare pre-school building in Lindenwood, offering a chance for families to share their stories about taking care of a loved one with the disease and learning more about autism itself.
Once word spread about the support group, more and more people attended the sessions. This eventually led them to secure enough funding to take over what used to be the Bernard Fineson Center and open the NYFAC building.
NYFAC offers several types of services, including support services, clinical services, recreational programs and training.
Among what they offer is an after-school program, which runs from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. According to the website, the program allows kids with autism to be in a safe, structured environment during the after-school hours. Among the activities they offer are musical instruments, visual arts, dance and technology/computer training.
Baumann also said they encourage every decision and program at NYFAC be done together as a group. An example he gave was parental participation in programs their kids are involved in. He said that the parents are often doing the same activity their children are if they are enrolled in a program.
“If the kid is playing basketball or another activity, then the parent is doing it too. They are not standing there watching,” Baumann said.
As for the future, Baumann is working on getting legislation introduced that would install a chip inside of an autistic child. He said the chip would not be used unless the child cannot be found, and then it would be activated to find his or her location. The device would be dormant inside the child’s body otherwise.
Baumann said this chip would make it much easier for a parent, if an Avonte-like scenario occurred and the child escaped from home or school.
The device is in its early stages, Baumann said, and he is talking with interested companies in using technology to create the device before moving it further along on the process.
“If it saves one life, this chip would be totally worth it,” he said.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @luisgronda.