New Yorkers with special needs will have more chances to swim, dance, make friends, and build confidence at University Settlement's Houston Street Center, thanks to New York City Council.
Council Member Margaret S. Chin advocated for and secured $25,000 as part of NYC Council's Autism Awareness Initiative to help our EXCEL enrichment program continue to grow and meet the substantial community demand.
"For parents of young people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, the challenges of finding suitable enrichment programs and activities are daunting," said Council Member Chin. "For families in need of affordable, linguistically- and culturally-capable programming, the challenges are even greater."
Families face a shortage of special needs enrichment programs everywhere; the EXCEL program is one of only two with Chinese-fluent staff in NYC. About half of the 200+ participants at the US Houston Street Center speak a Chinese dialect and 63% are low-income.
Classes offered include swimming – drowning is twice as likely for autistic children than for children without disabilities – hip hop dancing, cooking, technology, music and more. Many classes seek to build additional skills; for example, our drama classes include self-advocacy lessons that help participants speak up for themselves, make their own decisions and find out how to get the information they need.
Michael, a 22-year-old participant, says that the program helps him learn confidence. "I can work like other people and I like who I am today," said Michael.
Families of young people with special needs benefit, too, from parental workshops and a community that shares information and combats stigma together.
30 caregivers attend monthly community-powered workshops where experts speak on topics that families suggest, such as transitioning out of the school system. We also help parents organize and advocate in front of elected officials. Siblings benefit, too, from fun, enriching activities at our Houston Street Center that families travel for together.
The funding Council Member Chin secured will help more families connect and empower individuals with special needs so they can engage in fuller lives.
"Our children can be active contributors in the community," said Mrs. Leung, an EXCEL parent. "I wish for my son to have a normal life and for other parents to not allow stigma, people's reactions or hurtful words to rob our children of their rights to shine."