Dear Autism United Charity Donation Nomination Committee,
It is with great pleasure and much pride that I nominate Upstate New York Families for Effective Autism Treatment (simply referred to as UNYFEAT) for your consideration as a recipient of a charitable contribution on your organization’s behalf.
UNYFEAT, founded in 2004 by a small group of autism parents who were in dire need of support themselves at a time when such did not exist in our local community, is the leading 501(c)3 autism advocacy organization in Rochester and its surrounding areas. Since then, UNYFEAT has grown to assist and embrace more than 1,000 family and professional member households, and continues to grow and develop just as the prevalence of growth in autism diagnoses does in our home town. Parents are the primary personnel and volunteers who operate the organization with the guidance of the Board of Directors, sharing one cause, one mission, and one voice.
The core mission of UNYFEAT is to support individuals with autism and their beloved families by enriching lives while providing greater opportunities to do so. By identifying areas of need for those affected by autism, creating and implementing social skills education programs, supporting caregivers, providing community education and promoting awareness, advocating for policy change, as well as collaborating with community partners to promote inclusion is the commitment UNYFEAT has made to and is privileged to promote among its membership.
UNYFEAT’s offerings consist of special interest groups as well as educational and recreational programming opportunities for its members. One of its finest is a collaborative effort with the Greater Rochester YMCA offering a summer social skills program for children with autism. UNYFEAT hires professionals who work with children that have autism and other developmental disabilities, in support of its campers alongside the YMCA staff. This camp program is available to all children between the ages of 3 and 16 and specialized instruction makes it possible for them to be fully included in all activities, of which they otherwise would not experience in a typical summer camp setting. Parents are asked to select a few simple goals for their child to work on during the program, such as successfully enter into an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment, and are provided with a weekly progress report which maintains an objective centered focus in an effort to limit the common issue of summer regression that typically affects many students with autism. This platform also bridges the gap of need in our community for Extended School Year Services for those who do not necessarily regress, and have high academic abilities, but require social skills training and practice in such settings.
Another valued program offered annually is Lose The Training Wheels™. Their mission is to teach individuals with disabilities to ride a conventional two wheel bicycle and become life-long independent riders. This achievement, in turn, creates a gateway of opportunity, helping the riders gain assurance and self-reliance in many other aspects of their lives. Lose The Training Wheels™ provides specialized bicycle riding equipment, as well as a team of experts where each participant attends one 75 minute session per day for five consecutive days. UNYFEAT and its volunteers are able to change the lives of these children and teens by teaching them a skill that builds self-confidence, provides inclusion with their peers, and gives them a lifetime of fun and exercise.
In addition to the programs highlighted above, UNYFEAT also offers a Girl Power social group, teen bowling, swimming lessons, fitness and sensory based activities that many of its other members benefit from. Special interest groups are tailored to the passion of its young members who enjoy Legos, science, music, and electronics. During their time together, the children are supported in a social environment where they feel at ease to participate in being a part of a club of others who share their same interests while building friendships that carry on outside of the UNYFEAT walls.
UNYFEAT believes that supporting the caregiver is vital to the success of the individual, which is what drives the exceptional services it provides to families and professionals. The free Monthly Speaker Series offers topics related to supporting individuals with autism, such as the importance of writing solid IEP goals, and how to make the most of doctor appointments, of which are heavily attended and tremendously valued.
UNYFEAT also hosts professional conferences and workshops and has brought many well respected and admired autism experts such as Temple Grandin, Chantal Sicile-Kira, and most recently, Dr. Ross Greene, of which are open to the public. Parent Connection Groups, Sib Shops, and Family Gatherings are extremely important for UNYFEAT families. Its many parent groups consist of age specific concerns, such as the newly diagnosed and adult populations. Because the impact of autism on siblings can be an enormous weight for some to endure, UNYFEAT’s Sib Shops provide siblings ages 8-12 with the opportunity to make new friends while having fun and engaging in honest discussion about their lives.
UNYFEAT is a lifeline for its local autism community and continues to enhance its offerings as the need increases overall. Its present vision and long term goal is focused on the future of those living with autism, mainly the adult population. As the current young population advances toward transition, a life enrichment center, that would include program and classroom space as well as resource and recreation areas, becomes essential to their achievements and that that is why I believe UNYFEAT deserves to be an Autism United donation recipient for its contributions to the treasured community it so selflessly serves.
Thank you for your kind consideration,
Bethany M. Ciardi