We're excited to announce the 2nd annual Our Special Place Picnic. What is "Our Special Place?"
Diagnosis Day -- You Lose Your Breath
On April 19, 2004, our youngest son was diagnosed with autism. At the time I reached out to a dear friend from Wall Street who shared a prescient view: "Once you get your son squared away, you and Liz are going to help a lot of people."
I dismissed the prediction. We had immediate problems: teaching "E" to talk, use the toilet, dress himself, make eye contact, share, take turns, understand life and death, love, overcome frustration, regulate with others, engage with people for the love of social connection.
A neuro-typical child learns how to function organically. A special needs child must be taught step-by-step. I estimate that "E" and I have spent 800 hours learning how to cross a street.
Genesis of Our Special Place
Needless to say that to teach an impaired child how to join civilization is an intensive mission. It wears on the pysche and the checkbook. Each day, Liz and I and a host of therapists and professionals instructed "E" on mundane tasks and gradually increased the sophistication of his newly acquired world view. We knew of other boys who shared the same issues. Eventually, we brought the boys together in our basement for a social group. They met a few days a week for over a year.
The Shake in the Middle of the Night
One night Liz shook me awake.
"We need to help more kids," she said. "These kids need their own place to go. I want to open a non profit for special needs children. You're a Realtor. Go find me office space."
So Liz and Dawn Fittipaldi, O.S.P.'s Executive Director (who has a twenty year resume with the GRACE Foundation), started the legal process. A year later the Internal Revenue Service approved Our Special Place as a registered 501(c)-3 non-profit organization.
Last year Liz, Dawn and their intrepid volunteers raised almost $25,000.
The Board decided to raffle off free tuition to four of the thirty families that come to O.S.P. Liz and Dawn also announced an across-the-board cut in tuition by 20%.
Liz donates on average 20 hours a week to O.S.P. and families with special needs. She does not draw a salary. The Lenza family has not -- nor ever will -- make one dollar off autism.
Who is "Our?"
Liz (and Dawn) is often referred to as the Founder of O.S.P.
Liz is quick to correct: "O.S.P. was founded by four little boys who didn't know the odds were stacked against them when we started, that only 10% of children with autism get jobs as adults, only 5% live independently, and less than 1% get married and raise children."
We're blessed. God blessed "E" with an indefatigable spirit. Our son now knows he has autism. He's asked if he'll get married and father children. "E" is considered higher functioning. One day while we were driving to the center he opined that "we named O.S.P. wrong. It should be called My Special Place because I started it."
We've added humility to the list of things "E" needs to work on.
Picnic Information -- 2nd Annual Fundraiser
- Sunday, June 27th from 2PM to 6PM
- Bucks Mill Fairgrounds, Colts Neck NJ
- Food, live music, face painting, games and raffles!
- Call (732) 765-8500 for further details.
Our Special Place is located at 62 Broad Street, Matawan NJ 07747.
Upcoming Course Schedule
- Spring Session (meets one hour for eight weeks)
- Summer Camp (meets Tuesday & Thursday from 2PM to 4PM for 6 weeks)
- Applied Behavioral Analysis ABA (onsite and home-based instructional)
- Kids Club
- Me & My Mom
- Cooking Creations
- Cool Crafts
- Fitness & Fun
- Yoga & Wellness
- Sibling Success
- Pals at Play
- Let's Be Social
Our Special Place (“O.S.P.”) was started by the Fittipaldi and Lenza families and is a registered non-profit charitable organization under the IRS 501(c)-3 code. Our mission is to enrich the lives of children with special needs by providing a variety of professional services in a nurturing and therapeutic environment.
We are mothers and fathers. Daughters and sons. Sisters and brothers. Friends and therapists. Most of all we are special children.