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Nadine Wright-Arbubakrr, a mother of a child with autism, founded Nassan’s Place. She named the organization after her son Nassan, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 22 months old. Wright-Arbubakrr was inspired to help those with autism after her son’s diagnosis. She went to school to become a teacher for children with special needs, so her schedule would allow for more time to be with Nassan. After becoming a teacher, she saw that schools lacked resources and programs that children with autism needed. On Oct. 1, 2012 Nassan’s Place was officially incorporated in the state of New Jersey as a non-profit organization.
“The mission of Nassan’s Place is to provide an after-school program and Saturday hours for children with autism to have somewhere to go on non-scheduled school days. Working in a school with special needs children and having a child with special needs, I know and understand the importance of getting continuous support,” said Wright-Arbubakrr. “When special needs children are home for summer, with nothing to do, they are not receiving any extra services, and when they return back to school, it is like re-teaching them all over again. So Nassan’s Place is going to be an extension of the school year because that time is the perfect opportunity for them to learn so that they can become even more productive in our community.”
The program has not been put into place yet due to funding issues and a pending 501c3 certificate, which helps non-profit organizations become federal income tax exempt. Wright-Arbubakrr said that until she receives the certificate, she cannot apply for loans or grants so she is limited in terms of what she can do. She said that she would like to at least find space that she can lease until she raises enough money to buy her own place for the organization to operate.While awaiting the certificate and raising funds, Wright-Arbubakrr has been planning events for autistic children and their families to attend, such as days at movie theaters and roller skating rinks, toy drives and holiday parties. “I am trying to bring awareness to the community about autism and get families to come out to social events that they would not normally come to because they do not want the stigma of people staring at their children,” Wright-Arbubakrr said.
Nassan’s Place is also holding a 5K Walk for Autism at Branch Brook Park in Newark on March 29 from 9 a.m. to noon to raise money that will be split between Nassan’s Place and Autism New Jersey. Nassan’s will be putting the money toward Wright-Arbubakrr’s goal of opening a center where she will be able to offer the services that she has been planning. She said that she hopes to have 500 walkers at the event.
According to Wright-Arbubakrr, it is important for Nassan’s Place to have events like the walk not only to raise money, but also to spread awareness about autism. “The walk is a community day, to help the community understand what autism is, how it is affecting our community and explain how the children are in dire need of additional resources,” she said.
Wright-Arbubakrr said that the national rate for autism is one in every 50 children and in New Jersey, the rate is one in every 44 children. She said that New Jersey has the second highest autism rate in the country because New Jersey has an early intervention program that detects autism in children at a very early age.
“These children have a medical condition. People need to know that these are the most beautiful, special children. All that they want is to be accepted and included. Just because they have autism, that does not mean that they are any different than any other child,” said Wright-Arbubakrr.
She said that it is important for parents of autistic children to advocate for their children because if they do not, then nobody else will. Wright-Arbubakrr said that parents need to be involved in every aspect of their children’s educational experience because that is what is going to help the children develop into who they really are and who they will become in the future. She said that it is also important if one has a family member or friend with an autistic child, to help give them support.“The most rewarding part for me is looks of relief on some of the parents’ faces when I tell them that there is going to be a place that will provide additional educational and recreational, affordable and accessible services for our children. I am no longer just an advocate for my child, I am an advocate for all children with autism. My goal is to see smiles on the children’s faces. Our organization cannot stop the diagnosis, but we can help the families that are affected by it,” said Wright-Arbubakrr.
Nassan’s 5K Walk for Autism has a $20 registration fee for adults 18 and older, $15 for children 5 to 17 and is free for children under 5. Walkers can register online. Registrants will receive a T-shirt and a water bottle. The event will include the 5K, face painting, music, healthy snacks for the children and information from Cerebral Palsy North Jersey, Autism New Jersey and the Family Success Center of East Orange.