“I needed this amazing experience. Today I learned that no matter how hard the battle you are fighting, there is someone fighting a harder one with such a positive outlook. The people I had the honor of meeting today had such beautiful and positive spirits. From every person that was there — to every musician and vocalist that came out — I want to say thank you for such a memorable evening that I was able to share with my family and friends. Thank you for showing me that we have to pull ourselves up from the bootstraps and keep on going. When we learn to love ourselves and love each other, this world will be such a beautiful place.”
I welled up with bottomless emotion as I read the above Facebook post shared by Howard Beach resident, Bobby Sabatino, who with his family, came out to Jammin’ Jon and the Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families Group’s Rock Out for Autism concert at Rippers boardwalk concession on Sunday, July 9.
What took a mere, but hectic three weeks to plan, was a personal coming out for me after years of isolation. Dear readers, writing this column was the genesis of my journey to finally share and accept my daughter’s autism. When Rockaway Times’ (RT) publisher, Kevin Boyle, gave me this platform, no one would believe the countless hours I spent wondering if I was sharing too much or too little. However each column was like a building block and now eight months later, here I was standing in front of a massive crowd with my daughter, Soanirina, declaring, “Autism awareness needs to happen in Rockaway now, and as a community we need to join forces to help our beautiful, sometimes misunderstood children right here on the peninsula.”
I founded the Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families Support (RBAFSG) to provide a safe meeting space for families and the general public to share their experiences with autism, and learn from each other and experts in the field on how to elevate our enchantingly “artistic” children. Yes, I consider our children, “artistic,” remodeling the bewildering, misunderstood label, “autistic.”
At the concert, someone remarked, “It looks as though your daughter thinks this is a party for her.” And dear readers, yes indeed! This trail-blazing fiesta was for her and all children with autism on the peninsula!
Thank you Jammin’ Jon Kiebon, my faithful and proactive partner in organizing this concert. He is an amazing musician and single dad of Gail Kiebon, a beautiful and intelligent young lady with autism.
Also special thanks to all the musicians; Dominic Boero, Rippers boardwalk concession manager for hosting our concert, local artist extraordinaire, Jason Heuer, who designed the flyers and tee shirts for the event; my daughter’s dad, Rado Rafiringa and RBAFSG members, Rojo Rasaori and Katherine Schepper Ryan who generously volunteered their time and resources; Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato and her husband, Frank Amato, Trishia Bermudez, founder of nonprofit special-needs organization, Perfect Piece of the Puzzle, Inc., Florence Ferguson, 59th Street Playground Association board president; John Cori, Rockaway Beach Civic Association president, all the local businesses who donated raffle prizes; The RT management team — and to everyone else who came out — All in the spirit of raising the bar of autism awareness on the Rock!
(See the RT ad on page 36 expressing thanks to all our sponsors).
And last but not least, our beautiful stars, Soanirina Rafiringa and Gail Kiebon.
The momentum is building. It’s time for us to mobilize and elevate our “artistic” children — right here in Rockaway.