Reflecting on the Fantastic Monday Night Party

The Family Center for Autism was honored to be a beneficiary of the Monday Night Party, an annual event held this year on November 7 at the Engineers Country Club in Rosyln Harbor. The event is a fundraiser spearheaded by Debbie and Joel Levine who work tirelessly to create a unique, fun and family-friendly experience for all attendees. Once again this year, the Levine’s – who’s daughter, Emily, is being honored at the Life’s WORC Gala on December 6th, named the FRCA as a co-recipient of the event. Proceeds will benefit the FCA.

The incredible event featured an opportunity to watch Monday Night Football and play video games with New York Jet Muhammad Wilkerson and New York Giant Damon Harrison, among other football plays; an incredible cocktail hour and tailgate dinner; silent and live auctions and raffles and so much more.

Stacy Zauderer, a parent of an Autistic adult who is a member here at The Family Center for Autism, wrote this amazing piece about how and why she came to the FCA and why she believes so strongly in supporting it and the programs it offers.

“On Monday, November 7, we had the most amazing night helping raise money for five incredible organizations. Two of which are very close to our hearts. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who helped support this amazing event, and to give the hugest thank you to Debbie and Joel Levine for including. We are always so grateful for your friendship and so thankful for the opportunity you gave us to be able to share Mathew’s story. For those of you who missed it here is the very edited version:

When Matt was young, there wasn’t a lot of information about autism, just a lot of trial and error. There were very few programs available to him, and we home schooled Matt to give him the ABA training he needed. But as he got older his lack of communication and coping skills made him extremely frustrated, which led to aggressive behaviors that we could not manage. Keeping Mathew and our other children safe was becoming impossible.

In 2003, Matt was 10 years old and there were few options for him on Long Island. We turned to The Anderson Center for Autism as a last resort. It wasn’t easy to drop our 10-year-old son off at a residential school two hours away from home, but it was the greatest gift we could have given Mathew. Anderson opened up so many opportunities for him to engage in and enjoy his life.

Anderson specialized in autism and understood what Matt needed. They provided a structured life for him with close coordination between the residence and the school. Matt thrived at Anderson and experienced 12 amazing years of growth there.

What is most memorable about Mathew’s Anderson years is the staff. They loved Matt. They raised him as their own and gave him a wonderful childhood. They received amazing training and support that insured success.

Because of the incredible growth Matt had at Anderson and how much easier he became to manage, we decided to place him with an agency on Long Island when he aged out of the school system. We felt that this opened the door to include him more with our family. We thought this was so important for his adulthood.

It was a huge mistake.

His new group home did not understand Autism. There was almost no programming and he rarely got out into the community. The lack of behavior management allowed OCD to begin to take over his life. He regressed in every area. He became self injurious and began hitting his head to get what he wanted, and no one stopped him. In one episode he hit his head 120 times in a 90-minute period.

It was terrifying to watch this all unfold – and in so many ways we were helpless.

We didn’t know where to turn. We knew he was in crisis, and that his health and safety were at risk. But after 12 years upstate, we were out of touch with the Long Island Autism community. Our friends, Debbie and Joel had introduced us to the Family Center for Autism, but we didn’t really know them.

My first thought was that they had classes – I would try to get Mathew there for a few hours a day while Jon and I worked on getting him moved. But when I walked into the family center and Tina Moreno, Community Relations Director, said “How are you Stacy?” I just burst into tears and completely fell apart. Tina brought me into the office of Kristen Schreck-Many, the Director of Behavior Intervention Services. They spent three hours with me listening and strategizing how they could help.

From that moment on, we weren’t alone in our struggle to make Mathew safe. The support and guidance Kristen and her team gave us pulled us through some very dark days.

The FCA found the most wonderful people to work with Mathew one-on-one so he could safely begin attending classes there. As he began stabilizing, they increased his hours, always supported by amazing staff who were able to guide Mathew’s behavior. When he had difficulty – moments where he became aggressive or self injurious – was when their staff really shined.

They never gave in or took the easy way out. They wouldn’t let him get away with self injuring to get what he wanted. They made him work through it and they reminded him of what Anderson had worked so hard to teach him: Using words, not aggression, would get him what he wanted.

By June Mathew was able to start attending their full day program. Every moment he spends in their care is meticulously planned to ensure his success. They have been rehabilitating our son with so much warmth and skill. Mathew now attends their center seven days a week. He cooks, does Zumba, he loves music and computers – they have introduced him to so many new things. Yoga is actually his favorite activity, and I would never have guessed yoga was his thing! His days are once again filled with joy and purpose.

There are so many children with autism who desperately need places like Anderson and The Family Center for Autism. There are also thousands of people like Mathew heading toward age 21, heading toward that cliff. It may be your child or a friend’s child that is in need.

Places like Anderson and the FCA are saving lives every day. They are giving very disabled people dignity, respect and making their world beautiful. But they can’t do it alone. The funding the government gives them isn’t enough for them to deliver this quality of care. It is through fundraising that that they can recruit, hire and train exceptional staff to deliver services to a population that is incredibly in need. If you would like to make a donation please click on the link. Your donation will really make a difference in someone’s life.”

Thank you, Stacy, for your kind words. We couldn’t be prouder to support Mathew and so many others like him, to help him enjoy all life has to offer and to be a safe space for him and for you and your family.

Thank you to everyone who came out to support us at the Monday Night Party – volunteers, guests and donors alike, and especially the Levine Family. It was a fantastic night, and we are already looking forward to next year!