Students at one Whitestone school are showing that you can start giving back to the community even at a very young age.
In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, the staff and students at P.S. 209, located at 16-10 Utopia Pkwy., participated in a walkathon at the school throughout the day on Friday.
Each grade at the school, which goes from kindergarten through fifth grade, went out and walked around the building four times.
Weeks before the walkathon, the school raised money to donate to the organization Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC) and its day school, an after-school program located in Whitestone. The school set a goal of $2,500 and as of Friday staff, students and their families raised close to $4,000.
“We have wonderful parents and our students are extremely involved so we’re really proud,” said Jacqueline Diaz Fernandez, assistant principal at P.S. 209. “The principal and I, we really feel that education is not just reading and writing and math. It’s so important that they really are well-rounded and ready to provide the community with extra services. I think we’re living in a society where everything is ‘me, me, me,’ and we want to teach the children that it is ‘us.’”
To raise money for the organization, autism awareness T-shirts were sold to staff members, 600 chocolate lollipops were made and sold, and pledges were made by the families of students.
“Autism is on the rise and we have some autistic kids in our building, and we wanted to donate money to something that directly affects our school and the children around us,” said Maria Sperrazza, a teacher and member of the special events committee that organized the event. “It’s fabulous that we can all come together and we always said P.S. 209 is a family.”
All the money raised before May 1 will go toward providing additional support to families at QSAC’s Whitestone location.
QSAC, which was started in 1978 by a group of parents who felt there weren’t enough services for children with autism, serves about 1,700 children and adults with autism in New York, with about 800 clients in Queens.
According to Pat Barrientos, external affairs coordinator for QSAC, events such as the walkathon help raise awareness for a disorder which a few years ago was found in 1 out of 110 cases, but presently affects 1 in 68 children.
“The lesson being taught here is about giving back, and at a very young age they are being taught to give back to their community and that’s a lifelong lesson that they will take with them — that it’s always good to share,” Barrientos said.
According to teachers, the walkathon served as a moment for the students to become aware of autism and also work together for a cause.
“I want to help stop autism,” said fourth-grader Kevin Bracken, who was named by the school as an autism awareness spokesman. “I think that people should fund and help all these diseases and disorders to help people. I love helping people.”