Spotlight on Gala Honoree Emily Levine

As we embark upon the holiday season and look forward to the Night of a Million Lights Gala on December 6, The Family Center for Autism would like to recognize Debbie and Joel Levine, whose tireless efforts to support the FCA, their dedication our programs and their generosity is sincerely appreciated.

Here at the FCA we are honored to be a part of their lives and to help their daughter Emily, one of this year’s honorees at the gala, and son Jamie to thrive in our programs. Like so many parents of children with Autism, the Levines struggled to find the right fit, the right place for their family for classes and services.

Then One Day, they found The Family Center for Autism.

“As soon as we learned that the FCA was going to be a place where our children with Autism could take classes, join clubs and participate in all activities, all while receiving the supports they needed in order to be successful, we knew we had to join,” Debbie Levine shares. “Prior to the FCA’s existence, we had enrolled our children in many other programs, most of which are run by volunteers or staff members who do not specialize in working with the Autism population. Unfortunately Autism comes with many challenging behaviors and when those behaviors occurred, the result was always the same – we would be asked to have our children leave immediately, and in some cases withdraw completely from the program. We knew this would never be the case at the FCA, so finding it was as if someone created a place which we had always dreamt of, but now our dreams were becoming a reality.”

“The best thing about the FCA is the classes, because they are all about my favorite things,” Emily says. “My favorite program is art because I love to draw. I also love going to the rec room and playing with the toys there,” she continues. “It has all kinds of stuff. There are lots of books, instruments, games and art supplies. The classes are exciting and the teachers are really nice. You will make lots of new friends there because everyone is so nice.”

According to her parents, since Emily began attending the FCA she has shown a level of interest and excitement that they had never witnessed before. “This is the first place that Emily has asked to return to, and actually shows disappointment if she has to miss a class,” Joel says. “When she is at the FCA she is comfortable being herself and is accepted as such. Whether taking a class, attending a movie night or going on a group trip, there is a feeling of fitting in, a feeling she has not experienced outside of our home.”

Emily’s self-confidence has also improved greatly, as she has been afforded many opportunities through the FCA which she otherwise would not have been. One such opportunity was when Emily was asked to be featured in a video, filmed at Lord & Taylor, for Autism Awareness month. Emily was served her favorite breakfast, fitted and dressed in Lord & Taylor’s finest fashions and had her hair and makeup professionally done, all while being videotaped and in the spotlight. “This experience made her feel special, not because of her disability, but because it would make a typical child feel the same way. She was given a chance to be a star, just like anyone else. But unlike anyone else, it meant so much more to her,” Debbie notes.

The Levines’ 20-year-old son Jamie also enjoys attending the FCA and taking classes where he can be himself and feel understood and accepted. “All you have to do is watch him to know how much he enjoys his time there,” according to Joel. “In addition to taking classes, Jamie has also utilized the hair salon – a perfectly designed environment for any child who cannot tolerate the noise and commotion of a typical hair salon.” This is just a sample of the many special programs and services offered at FCA that are unlike anywhere else.

“Like Emily, Jamie was also able to enjoy activities he would never have had the opportunity to do, and experience things he has never before,” Debbie shares candidly. “One of Jamie’s happiest moments occurred while attending last year’s holiday party at the FCA. He got to lead a long conga line, and the look of happiness and excitement on his face is one we will never forget. It is moments like these that parents with children with Autism don’t often get to experience, but at the FCA moments like these happen all the time.”

There are many differences between the FCA and other organizations servicing children with special needs. For example, the FCA is the only organization specifically servicing children and adults with Autism. “All other organizations try to provide services to all special needs children and adults, but seem to fall short when it comes to their expertise in understanding how to service the Autism population,” according to Joel. “This is what sets the FCA apart from all the others and makes them so unique. The caliber of its staff is second to none. The entire FCA staff is comprised of highly professional, well-trained people who are willing to go above and beyond to make sure our children are happy and successful. It is not a one-size-fits-all organization, but rather a place that celebrates everyone’s differences and conforms to each individual’s needs and wants.”

“Every child who attends feels a sense of belonging and acceptance,” Debbie agrees. “Aside from being a wonderful place for our children, our entire family has a place to go that is stress free, where we can relax, take a class, have massage or just hang out with people like us. The Family Center is so much more than just four walls, it’s our family’s home away from home.”

And Emily certainly shares in that sentiment. “The Family Center has helped me make new friends that like the same things as me,” she says. “My new friends are like me, and are nice. It makes me feel good.”

It is our pleasure to recognize Emily as an honoree at this year’s Night of a Million Lights gala, and to give her yet another moment to shine – to show others how much she has grown and how beautifully she presents herself as a representative for the Autism community.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have this year’s Night of a Million Lights gala honor our beautiful daughter Emily. By attending this year’s event you will be supporting two very worthy charities servicing the Autism population,” Joel explains. “Why is this so important? Unfortunately, with the growing epidemic of Autism, and constant state budget cuts, there are very few places where parents can turn for much needed help and support. Life’s WORC’s Family Center for Autism and QSAC are providing help, support and most importantly a place where you know your loved one is safe, happy and in the best hands.”

“On a personal note we can tell you that not only will you be supporting these important charities, but just by attending you will be affording our daughter the opportunity to feel what it feels like to be popular and important,” Debbie adds. “This is a feeling she rarely experiences, but will last a lifetime.”

As Emily puts it, “I am very excited to be honored because everyone will know me, and now I will be a legend.”

The Levine family and everyone here at The Family Center for Autism hope that you will join us on December 6 at the Night of a Million Lights gala, so we can continue to make a difference, not just in these children’s lives, but in the lives of so many living with Autism.