This week's New Yorker devotes her time to creating a sanctuary for children with special needs and their families. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.
Eliza Factor's world changed when her son, Felix, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism. She began to experience the isolation that often faces families with special needs children.
"It's hard to go out as a family when one of your children is seriously disabled," she said. "There are just a lot of places not open to you. It's just awkward to you socially."
Wanting to provide Felix and other children and families in the same situation a place to relax and have fun, Eliza established Extreme Kids and Crew. It's a sensory lab and play space in the Coop School in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
"People love the swing, the ball pit, the bubble machine and the squeeze machine," she said. "More than the gear, they love the atmosphere."
"One thing I like about the safe place where he can do the things he likes to do, can act the way he acts," said Jeremy Kaplan, a parent of a child who uses the space. "He doesn't get judged by people."
Eliza has created a community free of judgment and worry, where children are able to paint, climb and jump as they wish.
"We have many circles in our lives, our family friends," said Jamila Waddell, a parent of a child who uses the space. "But what we didn't have was a community of people we could relate to on this level. I have friends with children but not with special needs. It feels good just to be able to relate to somebody and not feel like I always need to be on edge. For me, it's peace in that way."
The program operates with the help of grants, donations and volunteer efforts. Eliza hopes to one day build a landmark Brooklyn community center with even more classes for special needs kids in the city.
"I think there is this idea that children with special needs are a problem," she said. "I think the problem is that in society, everything is becoming more standardized. They're not making space for these kids. So that's what I'm trying to do, to create a warm celebratory joyful space for people who don't fit in."
So, for creating that joyful space where families can feel at home, Eliza Factor is our New Yorker of the Week.
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