A version this piece was published in The Queens Courier on April 9, 2013.
Richard Henry moved to New York City two months ago in search of a new autism facility for his daughter.
Fortunately, he won’t have to look any further.
After a six-month delay following Sandy, about 200 parents, children, staff members and politicians attended the grand opening of the $5.9 million New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC) center in Howard Beach on April 7.
Henry, an Ozone Park resident, is only 10 minutes away from the center by car.
“My daughter will be really happy coming to a place like this, because she doesn’t have to travel long distance,” Henry, 62, said.
Last October, Sandy flooded the first floor of the facility, destroying walls, furniture and electrical equipment. It forced the center to close its doors about two weeks before it was even set to open.
The post-storm renovation cost a little more than $200,000, mostly to repair damages, but also to replace appliances, according to NYFAC president Andrew Baumann.
Baumann was able to pay for the damages by borrowing money from New York Community Bank. The building now has flood insurance, he said, which it did not before Sandy.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Baumann said. “It’s been a long, hard road.”
Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder secured $100,000 in the state budget to help cover the cost of rebuilding the center. He believes the facility represents the community’s rebuilding as a whole.
“We’re not done here, there is a lot of work to do,” Goldfeder said. “But it’s just a tremendous symbol for the community of strength, unity, stability and that we’re going to come back.”
The entire building is self-sufficient and environmentally friendly, running only on energy from giant solar panels on the roof.
On the first floor, there are rooms for meetings, video and board games, showers, first aid, an instrument-filled music room and a fully-loaded kitchen.
The second floor has administrative offices, a 16-seat conference room, a training room, an evaluation room and a television studio, so the center can create its own shows.
“This is going to be a wonderful resource for the families affected by autism,” said Councilmember Eric Ulrich. “It’s going to be a one-stop shop for people to get support, to get the services they need … and to get help.”
The next step for the center is to build a gym above the parking lot. The $2 million project will include fitness machines, a basketball court inside and a volleyball court on the roof outside, Baumann said.
But for now the center is focused on providing services to people with autism.
“It was important that they opened their doors to those children and families in need of assistance,” said Senator Joseph Addabbo. “It was never a question of if it was going to open, it was when.”