Written by Pat Grace Friday, 11 November 2011 00:00
The joyful, although rain drenched, Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for the new location of the Nicholas Center for Autism (NCFA) and Spectrum Designs Foundation in Port Washington took place on Oct. 27. The foundation offers a variety of services and life skills geared toward improving the lives of young men and women with autism and similar conditions. Located in Port Washington, near Louie’s Restaurant, at 416 Main Street, the foundation also offers vocational opportunities at Spectrum Designs, an apparel decorating company that teaches the foundation’s clients the necessary skills for employment.
Legislator Wayne Wink said thoughtfully, “The center is a wonderful reminder to so many people that children become adults and their needs change and grow along with them. And as they grow older, their caregivers grow older too, and that creates new problems. This center is working to address the growing problem of their becoming adults –that the children will outlive the parents and caregivers— and must eventually make their way on their own. We must,” added Wink, “also address their needs as a society.”
Founded in the wake of the sudden loss of her husband who suffered a heart attack in June of 2010, Stella L. Spanakos, of Manhasset, established NCFA and Spectrum in February 2011. Mother to an only child with autism and alerted to the fragility of life, Ms. Spanakos set out to secure a future for her son Nicholas.
Ms. Spanakos, sharing her experience with the Manhasset Press the evening of the ribbon cutting, explained, “As our children grow up, securing a job is very difficult—there are ‘slim pickins’. But, after secondary school one must prepare for the next journey.” Children with autism have a difficult transition from school to adult services.
“Sure,” Spanakos continued, “they are accepted as volunteers but when you ask for a job, it is very different.” So Nicole Sugrue, her friend and the center’s co-founder, and Stella decided they were approaching the problem backwards—trying to fit round pegs into square holes. “What we should be doing,” she said, “is forming a business that autistic children could be successful in.”
The two women, researching online, discovered the T-shirt business to be recession proof. They visited a T-shirt company and found one that used computers—no ink, no silk screen, no toxic materials, and thought, “This is it!”
Spanakos recounted, “We told each other that our children were seriously impaired, and if we could teach them the process, well, we could teach others.”
So, their business was created with autism in mind and the desperate need for adult services. Spectrum Designs Foundation, Ltd, is one of the innovative programs supported by the Nicholas Center for Autism. Spectrum Designs, is a non-for-profit organization that creates custom-made decorated apparel and features a full line of special event favors. It is a groundbreaking venture which fully engages individuals with autism and related conditions in all aspects of production.
Stella Spanakos struck an important cord with many when she said, “Once my son Nicholas was diagnosed, my ultimate goal in life became clear—get him to a level and a place where he is safe, has a feeling of inherent worth, and, most importantly, he’s happy. I believe Spectrum Designs achieves this, and so we want to involve as many individuals as possible.”
Since February 2011 the company has created customized clothing for numerous corporate and special events and has developed its own clothing line featuring artwork and designs created by individuals with autism.
How exciting the trip has been for them now that they have arrived at the ribbon cutting of their new business.
To support the efforts of Spectrum Designs visit their website at www.spectrum designs.org or visit www.ncfautism. org.