Support group grows into crucial autism program on Long Island

- The last Friday of every month, some women gather at Mather's Hospital in Port Jefferson, Long Island. It seems like a women's club, but it is more than that. They are mothers and have a strong bond that unites them.

Eight years ago, Stephanie Mendelson gave birth to fraternal twins. But she quickly noticed her son Jacob wasn't developing the same way her daughter was. He approached school age, Jacob received a formal diagnosis of autism.

Priscilla Arena is living a similar life. He son was diagnosed when he was 6.

These Long Island moms didn't know each other, but a business meeting brought them together to do big things for their children. They clicked right away and realized they weren't alone.

The lack of resources in Suffolk County for children with autism drove these dedicated mothers to start a support group. In December 2015, Stephanie put a post on Facebook and 12 moms showed up to meet. A year and a half later, 1,400 families from all across Long Island are part of Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information. SASI is a central resource, especially for new parents.

SASI offers parents support, they have a lending library program where kids can take home books, a birthday club, every month they celebrate a child's birthday. Many of these children have significant social challenges and difficulty making friends. Often they aren't invited to birthday parties, so SASI makes sure they are.

SASI also offers a life-skill program and a vocational coach program that prepares people for job opportunities with lessons on how to write a resume and what to expect at a job interview.

For the nonprofit organization, funding is critical. In June, the Blue Party will raise funds so SASI can continue services and offer even more.

The moms just want their children to live normal lives and count on the fundraisers to keep the organization growing. 

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