Isabelle Mosca, of Ventnor, said that after her son received a diagnosis of autism in 2002, she looked for a place to turn for support. Not finding exactly what she was looking for, she decided to start her own group, FACES 4 Autism. Mosca said that before she knew it, the group had 200 people.
"There really are very limited programs in South Jersey for people with autism, and insurance does not cover most of the programs that are offered," Mosca said.
On Sept. 21, FACES 4 Autism had its first unity walk at St. James Church of Holy Trinity Parish in Ventnor to raise awareness about the organization and the cause.
"It's basically showcasing families and celebrating their involvement in the community," Mosca said of the unity walk. "(We want to) get other people involved and show how important it is that we are out in the community."
The proceeds generated from the unity walk - which were raised in part through online donations - directly benefited the family programs that FACES 4 Autism supports.
"Our goal for FACES is education and support of our community. We offer workshops and programs and events for the families, and this helps them to better cope with a diagnosis of a child with autism," Mosca said.
Shannon Costal, of Marmora, has been an active member of FACES 4 Autism since her son received a diagnosis on the autism spectrum two years ago. Her family joined the unity walk to give back to the organization that has always offered her its support.
Costal said one of the main advantages that FACES 4 Autism has over other support groups is that the money raised directly benefits families in need. She said that other groups, such as Autism Speaks, use donations to support research for the cause of autism; that does not immediately benefit families.
"Most of us parents aren't looking for a cause for autism," Costal said. "Living in South Jersey, there are not a lot of resources down here … it's nice that there is a local support organization here for us, because if we didn't have that, we'd have nothing."
Some of the programs that FACES 4 Autism supports are monthly family "play dates", where the kids can get together and fine-tune social skills while the parents learn about different topics in another room. The group also supports an annual conference, art classes, and education programs to teach people about autism.
For the future, the group is attempting to sponsor a "sensory friendly" movie every month starting Oct. 5. To be sensory friendly, the movie theatre will not turn the lights off all the way, or have the sound too high.
"It's just a chance to get in the environment where people won't get mad if our kids are up and down the isles," Costal said.
Along with those programs, Mosca also started the international program Bubbles 4 Autism.
On Bubbles 4 Autism day, participants simply blow bubbles as a means to raise awareness for autism. Mosca said that at one time, Bubbles 4 Autism prompted 57,000 people internationally to blow bubbles at the same time. This would have been a Guinness World Record; however, logistics with paperwork left the feat unrecorded.
"I help people all over the world every day; I talk to people in Algeria, Ireland, Utah. It's amazing to be sitting here on the beach in Ventnor and be able to help someone whose just been diagnosed across the world. We have unity in autism, and we've all become friends through our support of one another," Mosca said.
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See faces4autism.org for more information.