A much needed center for autistic children that was supposed to have its grand opening when Hurricane Sandy hit is back up and running thanks to community donations. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
There were sounds of joy and bright smiles during a recent visit to the Center for Autistic Children in Howard Beach. But one year ago there was a flood of tears.
"The ribbon cutting was going to be - we had all the politicians, Senator Addabo, everyone was going to be here but what happened was Sandy came," said Sara DiGennaro of New York Families for Autistic Children.
And that un-invited guest unleashed a surge of water from not one but three different waterways: The nearby canal, the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay. The New York Families for Autistic Children was closed for business before it could even open.
"NY1 was on the rooftop across the street - a lot of footage is shot from the NY1 perspective - it was just amazing. I've never seen anything like that and I hope and pray we never will again," said New York Families for Autistic Children President Andrew Baumann.
After the facility was destroyed, Baumann used NY1's award winning coverage along Cross Bay Boulevard to illustrate to donors why he urgently needed money to rebuild.
"FEMA has not given us a penny," he said.
Camille Thomae teaches young people with autism how to cook. She says Sandy turned her state-of-the-art kitchen upside down.
"Refrigerators were floating, the dishwasher, everything - all covered in water," Thomae recalled.
Staffers were forced to start over from scratch and they call it a labor of love. Baumann's son attends the center and it came about because young people with developmental disabilities on the Rockaway peninsula are often isolated from programs and services. He says he was humbled by how his neighbors pitched in to help.
"No matter how badly they were hurt, they still walk in here with a check. Honda across the street - they lost three million dollars in motorcycles - and they walked in here with a check and said we're gonna help you," Baumann said.
Thanks to generous donations, a half-million dollar loan from New York Community Bank, the facility reopened last spring in record time. There's also a new piano and entertainer Kid Rock donated guitars to the music room.
It's been a long rough road for all involved but the camaraderie and commitment at the facility is music to their ears.