The NYPD School Safety Division Queens South & Youth Strategies Division held its inaugural 5K walk for autism in Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows on Saturday, April 24, to raise awareness about autism and show support for parents struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 500 participants registered for the I Walk for Autism event, much to the delight of XO Sharpe of NYPD School Safety Queens South, who came up with the idea for the walk.
The event was also the kickoff for her group’s second walking season.
Since gyms were closed due to the pandemic, she and her colleagues began walking, setting a new distance goal every month, eventually reaching 75 miles in one month, Sharpe said.
“So when the next year came, I was like, ‘You know, I think we should have a fundraiser. Let’s do something.’ And March came, and I was like, ‘All right, so we’re gonna do it in April,'” Sharpe explained.
After brainstorming which cause they should donate to, they decided to contribute to Birch Family Services and New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC) with the help of NYPD officers Barrett and Barksdale with the Youth Strategy Division, who have a close relationship with the organizations.
It took the organizers only one and half months to put the event together. Registration ranged from $15 over $20, which came with a T-shirt, to $45, which included a T-shirt and a gift bag. The NYPD School Safety officer pointed out that the NYPD donated basketballs with the names of fallen officers, which they gave out to participants.
“We’re looking to give back, that’s our most important thing, that we really just wanted to give back,” Sharpe said before proudly declaring that the event raised $13,000, which was split between Birch and NYFAC.
James Sherry, CEO of NYFAC, shared that his organization had been looking for opportunities to deepen their relationship in the community and was proud to partner with the NYPD School Safety Division & Youth Strategies Division for the event.
“I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who’s donated, everyone who’s signed up today. I promise you that the proceeds of this will go to helping adults and children with developmental disabilities and autism,” Sherry expressed during the check ceremony.
NYFAC supports both adults and children with autism and other developmental disabilities and provides in-home support for individuals and families and after-school respite. The organization is also developing pre-vocational and employment-focused programs this year. Sherry explained that the organization is currently accepting new participants, and interested families can contact them at nyfac.org.
Debbie Costagliola with Birch Family Services was grateful that they were chosen and thanked everyone for the donation.
“In the times of budget cuts, the time of struggling, this just really warmed our hearts. And I promise you, the children’s families will definitely put these funds to use,” Costagliola said.
Birch Family Services was founded in 1975. It serves over 2,000 people from ages 3 through life across the city and provides education and community services, and empowers families by providing resources to navigate and access support services for their loved ones.
Participants, who were scheduled in waves to ensure social distancing, started the march under an awning of colorful balloons to the tunes of upbeat music.
Michelle and Reggie Dupont participated with their young daughter, Liana. They heard about the event because Michelle is a school safety agent.
“I think it’s awesome. My nephew is on the spectrum, so I’m walking for him,” Michelle Dupont said.