Autism Awareness Month championed by small businesses

By Chris Mellides

Spring is upon us and in times like these, the importance of community is paramount. April is National Autism Awareness Month and with it, small businesses on Long Island are partnering to benefit Catholic Health and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson to help brighten the lives of children and adults living with autism.

Led by Joe Conlon, Suffolk County businesses are donating proceeds from food sales to raise money for autism awareness. Photo by Joe Conlon

An estimated 5,437,988 or 2.21% of adults and 1 in 44 children in the United States have autism and fall somewhere on the spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition can be debilitating, although this is rare and otherwise manageable. Autism occurs in children when they are between 12 and 18 months old and in adolescents. Despite its commonalities, experts say people with autism and their families can sometimes deal with stigma. It is important to recognize this and move forward with a sense of solidarity within our local communities.

United in one cause, seven Long Island businesses are helping to fight the stigma associated with autism. Observing Autism Awareness this month shows the strength of the community, with proceeds from food sales going directly to benefit Catholic Health and St. Charles Hospital.

“The current movement is moving from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month,” said Virtual Therapy for Kids founder Joe Conlon. “I wanted to be part of that change, I wanted to help move the movement towards acceptance. So, I thought the best way to do that was to get the community involved – and people love these businesses.

Conlon has been credited with spearheading the month-long fundraiser and the companies involved are excited to help make this fundraising and morale-building movement a reality.

Located in Northport, Robke’s Italian Restaurant is one of seven participating restaurants.

Owner Louis Selvaggio Jr.’s sister, Mia, was approached by Conlon with the idea for the fundraising effort. She said that because she worked with ‘a lot of local brands and businesses’ she was able to help Conlon reach his goal of raising autism awareness and creating a fundraising campaign. for St. Charles’s Hospital Pediatric Rehabilitation Program.

“So basically him and I had some conversations, like how we can raise awareness and embrace this topic,” Selvaggio said. To do its part, Robke’s has created a unique rainbow mojito to sell to its customers – 10% of every drink sold will go to benefit the fundraiser.

“A lot of people think it’s autism awareness month, but it’s actually autism awareness and acceptance,” she says. “Instead of the color being just blue, it’s blue and rainbow, which a lot of people aren’t aware of until Joe explains it to me.”

Selvaggio has a jewelry business that she says will also help the pediatric rehabilitation program.

Bean’s Bagels owner Michael Budani, who started working in the bagel business since he was an enterprising 15-year-old store clerk, was happy to help Conlon fulfill the fundraising mission – and all came to fruition with a single Instagram direct message.

“We’re very involved on social media with our crazy bagels and rainbow bagels,” Budani said. “I said [Conlon] I think it would be a great idea because our goal is to help children.

Suffolk County businesses are donating proceeds from food sales to raise money for Autism Awareness. Businesses include Robkes in Northport with specially made mojitos. Photo by Joe Conlon

Bean’s Bagels has only been in operation for four months in St. James, according to the owner, but has already made a significant impact in the community by supporting children’s baseball and softball games.

“When we got wind of [the fundraiser] we thought it was awesome, it’s a great opportunity to get our name out there and most importantly to do a good deed for people,” Budani said.

Dr Ben Birney, resident physician at St Charles Rehabilitation Center in Port Jefferson, said he and Conlon were inseparable after becoming best friends in high school. Birney works in the rehabilitation unit and does clinical rotations with patients, including children with neurological conditions.

Birney’s nephew has autism so this fundraiser means a lot to him and his family. He acknowledges that there is indeed a stigma associated with autism and that Conlon’s idea of ​​benefiting the community and St. Charles Hospital was a good move.

Speaking about the fundraiser, Birney said: “I think it’s huge. It even gives people a few seconds of their day to think about Autism Awareness.

Local businesses involved in community fundraising, along with Robke’s Northport and Bean’s Bagels, are My Olive Oil Cake, ExoticsnacksLI, ENP Nutrition, Clarkson Avenue Crumb Cake Co., and Cosenza NYC.