A parents' group of children who are on the autism spectrum has donated all of the monies it's collected over a two-year period to the Greater Carbondale YMCA.
John Gigliotti, speaking on behalf of the group members and their families, said they've collected $500 at craft shows and other small events which have been held at various times in the past two years. Earlier this month, the group decided to donate those monies to the YMCA.
Gigliotti and two other parents — Patty Duguay and Tammy Smith — presented the check at the facility to its program director James Wiggins and aquatics director Jeremy Popeil, both of whom have been working very closely with the kids in the program and their parents.
Gigliotti stated that the donation was a way for the families who are part of the group to expressing their gratitude for all of the support they've received from the YMCA, its executive director Steve Durkin, and all of the staff members.
"We wanted to recognize all that Steve Durkin and everyone at the Y has done for these autistic children, for their siblings who are certainly a big part of this, and for our families," he explained.
The parents' group, known by the acronym TABS (Transitioning to Adulthood and Beyond on the Spectrum), has been meeting monthly at the YMCA for Autism Swim-Gym, which are special nights of fun and socializing for everyone involved.
Each of these two-hour programs — which are held on the second Friday of every month — devotes the first hour to allowing the children to have some "fun time" together, during which they can swim, use the gym, play basketball, lift weights or take full advantage of any other part of the facility. The second hour is always an opportunity for the kids and their families to have pizza or snacks and spend quality time by getting to know each other and bonding together.
It all started when the parents realized they needed something to help their children with the transition from teenage years into adulthood.
"These days, early intervention autism programs are very strong, they've come a long way," Gigliotti related, "but as the kids start to get a little older, into their teenage years, the programming drops off dramatically."
They approached Durkin about the possibility of using the YMCA on a regular basis, and he didn't even hesitate in jumping right on board.
"Let's do it!" he offered, opening the newly-refurbished facility up to the children and their families by immediately implementing the monthly program as part of the schedule.
He said the staff members love having the kids there, and the kids really enjoy themselves at the Y.
"They're great kids," Durkin noted with a smile. "We let them do what they enjoy — go into the weight room, whatever they want. They're not going to break anything and they always seem to have a great time when they're here."
Page 2 of 2 - Now, the parents say they've seen dramatic improvement in their childrens' lives, something that's had a positive impact not only upon these kids but all their family members as well.
"We couldn't have done this without Steve's support and full cooperation," Gigliotti noted.
Duguay agreed, adding, "Anything we ask Steve for, he finds a way to make it happen. He's been tremendous throughout this whole experience."
As for the parents themselves — the TABS group they've formed and their monthly Autism Swim-Gym program — they were already having a big impact here in the city and throughout the region when they were profiled in a front-page article in the NEWS back in September ["Local autism group helping families far beyond the city," by Tom Flannery], but since then they're reaching even more people.
"We've added a number of families from the time that article was published," Gigliotti related.
With the $500 donation, he said they feel like they're giving back to some people and an institution who have done so much to make the lives of these children and their families a little better.
"In fact, a whole lot better," he noted.