Carnival of Love Foundation Event for Autism Awareness

By Eleni Sakellis

ASTORIA – On World Autism Awareness Day, Sunday, April 2, the Carnival of Love Foundation (COLF) participated in Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue campaign whereby thousands of iconic landmarks, buildings, homes, and communities around the globe ‘light up blue’ in support of people living with autism.

COLF installed 5 custom, puzzle-piece skylines that will illuminate 30th Avenue in Greek-centric Astoria, in blue from April 1-30. The puzzle piece is the universal symbol for autism, and the blue represents support of the Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue campaign. COLF unveiled what will be an annual lighting installation at their “Light It Up Blue” event at Ovelia, in Astoria. The event was complimentary and open to all who support the effort to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism.

Co-founder/Executive Director Dennisia Slabakis spoke with The National Herald about the event and about COLF noting that the mission of the organization is to bring community, love, and joy to the lives of children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and special needs in the local Queens community.

Youla Efthimiou, Parent Outreach Director for COLF, advocate and parent of a child with autism also spoke with TNH. She said, it’s important to let parents and families know they are not alone. Efthimiou pointed out that having a child with autism, it is easy for Greek families especially to feel alone and become isolated and that early on, she herself felt isolated.

It’s difficult for many people to understand that because you can’t see a developmental delay in a child as obviously as you would see a missing limb, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist, so reaching out, increasing awareness and understanding, and overcoming the stigma of having a child with a disability by sharing and empowering parents to empower themselves through resources and support, creates a sense of community. According to a 2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 US children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls), have autism spectrum disorder; and on a global scale, it’s roughly 1% of the population.

It is hard for Greeks to accept, Efthimiou noted, and there is a tendency to become isolated, but the word is getting out in the community, and though autism tests all relationships, COLF offers programs and workshops that are making a tremendous difference in many people’s lives. Efthimiou mentioned taking groups bowling and apple-picking, and setting up playdates that help to connect families and children with ASD, and though COLF is doing its best, more still needs to be done and raising awareness by teaming up with Autism Speaks to light up 30th Avenue on Sunday is just part of the solution. “Hopefully, next year we’ll have Ditmars and Broadway lit up, too, for World Autism Awareness Day,” Efthimiou said.

Slabakis thanked all those present for attending the event and led everyone outside for the lighting ceremony. A family affected by ASD was stationed at each of the five puzzle pieces along 30th Avenue, to flip the switch for the lighting ceremony which took place when the sky darkened enough so the lights could be seen clearly. A brief countdown was followed by cheers and photographs of the blue lit puzzle pieces decorating the avenue.

Among the world landmarks lit in blue on Sunday were the National Theatre of Piraeus, Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, the City Hall of Ioannina, and the Zosimaia Historic Library in Ioannina, the Empire State Building, the White House, Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Niagara Falls, the Tasmanian Parliament House and Town Hall in Australia, CN Tower in Canada, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building in Mumbai, India.

The Carnival of Love Foundation team includes Dennisia Slabakis- President, Anastasia Theofanis- Vice President, Nikki Krokos- Treasurer, Youla Efthimiou- Parent Outreach Director, and Maria Evangelou- Leader of the Special Needs Liturgy. More information about COLF is available online at www.carnivaloflove.org.


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