Flying High with Wings for Autism

Children and their families from AHRC New York City’s schools were cruising at Wings for Autism for the third year in a row. Organized by The Arc in partnership with Delta Airlines, the TSA, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the event is an airport rehearsal experience that allows families to go through all of the stressors and stimuli that passengers are confronted with at the airport, including long lines, loud or confusing noises of the airport terminal, public address announcements, security checks, and airplane boarding procedures.

For young people with autism, Wings for Autism offers an invaluable opportunity to become acclimated to a daunting but necessary part of life.

Now Boarding…

Like any other trip to the airport, the day began at the check in counter, where prospective passengers checked in and received special boarding passes. Families then proceeded to the gate, along the way undergoing security measures, emptying pockets, taking off their shoes, and passing through the full body scanner.

At the gate, Delta provided snacks and drinks while everyone waited for the plane to arrive. After the deplaning process was complete, the families, many clad in the royal blue Wings for Autism shirts, were allowed on the plane to sit for several minutes and explore what it is like to be on an airplane as a family.

All the while, airline and airport staff treated the event as if it was a typical day, making the usual boarding announcements and answering questions from children and parents alike.

 Students and Staff React

 “This is my second straight year coming,” said Salvatore Shurott, a student from AHRC Middle / High School. Salvador came to LaGuardia Airport with his mom, Vicky and his brother. Salvatore said that he was getting more used to coming to the airport and has big plans in mind. “Next year we’re hoping to take a flight to Las Vegas!

Jalen Brown was accompanied by his dad, Danny. “This is my first time!” Jalen said with a big smile. “I like to go to the airport, and I’m glad this plane isn’t taking off.”

This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said John Goodson, Staff Training Director and Lead Investigator for AHRC NYC’s Educational Services, speaking to the families in attendance. “Thanks to all of you – the volunteers, the parents, the students, the friends, the airline staff. The goal is to make the airport more comfortable and we come closer and closer to that every year.”

AHRC New York City would like to thank Brian Rohlf and Michele Delgado of the Port Authority, TSA’s Veda Simmons and Guy Lainis, Jorge Chuzan, from Delta Airlines, Kerry Mauger of The Arc, and all of the Delta staff at LaGuardia Airport, for helping to coordinate Wings for Autism and once again, making it a great success. We also thank all of the AHRC NYC staff who volunteered their time to assist the families.

Spring Cleaning: Volunteers Completely Remodel Astoria Blue Feather

The children at Astoria Blue Feather were in for a surprise when they returned from this year’s spring break. Due to the generosity of the Metropolitan Building Managers of New York in cooperation with the Scandinavian American Building Managers Guild, the entire school received a full remodel over the course of a week, at no cost to AHRC New York City.

From fresh new paint to buffing the floors and everything in between, Astoria Blue Feather got an unexpected head start on providing better education to dozens of children.

It’s overwhelming to see how so many are able to pitch in to make this school the best looking preschool,Denise Polanco-Nieves, Principal, said. “To me, everyone that has come to donate their time for this, I see them as angels.

Making A Difference

Curt Bergeest, a Residence Manager for a building in Manhattan, was among the leaders in this charitable endeavor, and has done similar work in the past. “We usually work with Ronald McDonald Houses, cystic fibrosis foundations, places like that,” Curt explained. “Mary and Steve Weafer [whose son attended Esther Ashkenas Central Park Early Learning Center and the AHRC Middle High School] contacted me about this school, and we have this group of wonderful men and women who volunteered to help out.”

In addition to a complete remodeling of the school, the volunteers donated a voluminous amount of school supplies, including crayons, copy paper, pencils, and notebooks. Many of the building materials, such as paint, were donated by generous vendors that included Belfor Property Restoration and Franklin Lennon Paints. Many volunteers are members of the 32BJ SEIU union.

It’s easier for us to come out here and just do the work rather than donating money,Thomas Louie, one of the volunteers and a former teacher, said. “You can see the change that takes place. It’s a proactive approach, everything gets done right away. The kids will come in on Wednesday [April 19th] and just be shocked at all the work.

A Complete Transformation

Indeed, the school looks completely different. The old yellow halls are now painted a calming blue. New light fixtures brighten up the classrooms. Bathrooms have been freshly scrubbed and windows freshly cleaned.

Upon returning from spring break, one child said “Oh wait a minute, the classroom looks different, it was yellow and now it’s purple. But nobody told us!” Another remarked, “It’s so pretty! I saw colors on the window: blue and red, blue and red.

They surpassed our wildest dreams,Christina Muccioli, Director, Educational Services, said. “The volunteers came in here and said ‘We’ll paint!’ but they did so much more than that. They did extermination, they brought in program supplies. There was a plumbing company, replaced radiators, supply companies. They truly are angels.

AHRC New York City extends its deepest thanks to Curt, Tommy, and all of the other volunteers and organizations for donating their time and materials to transform Astoria Blue Feather and allow us to better educate children with disabilities.

Wing for Autism: Saturday, April 29, 2017

DATE and TIME: Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm

LOCATION: LaGuardia Airport, Delta Terminal

Wings for Autism® is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families, and airline professionals. The program is intended to reduce some of the stress that families who have a child with autism experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtain boarding passes, go through security, and board a plane. Wings for Autism® provides airport, airline, Transportation Security Administration professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact, and deliver their services in a structured learning environment.

Wings for Autism® was created by Charles River Center, an affiliated chapter of The Arc, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Port Authority.  For additional information about bringing Wings for Autism® to an airport near you, please email