Photo by Chris Sykes
East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor, right, and his wife, Bibi Taylor, lead the way on Saturday, April 23, at the third annual Nassan’s 5K Walk for Autism in Elmwood Park, alongside Nassan’s Place founder, Nadine Wright-Arbubakrr, center, while acting Recreation Department Director Osner Charles, rear left, and Lori Williams and others bring up the rear.
EAST ORANGE, NJ — Cousins Takisha Austin and Kenyatta Austin went for a walk in Elmwood Park in East Orange on Saturday, April 23, and discovered the third annual Nassan’s 5K Walk for Autism.
“We noticed that something was going on by the blue shirts” said Kenyatta Austin on Saturday, April 23. “This is a great cause. I used to work with children with autism. I was an assistant teacher and applied behavioral analysis counselor in Berwyn, Pa. I worked for a place called Melmark, which is a nonprofit organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities.”
Kenyatta Austin said Melmark’s founder and Nadine Wright-Arbubakrr, founder of Nassan’s Place, both turned their children’s challenging situations into something that benefits other families in similar situations. Wright-Arbubakrr created Nassan’s Place after she and her husband, Hassan, were informed their son, Nassan, had been diagnosed with autism.
Takisha Austin knew that story prior to the third annual 5K Walk for Autism. She said she really felt lucky to have come across the annual charity fundraising walk to promote and support autism awareness, especially in underserved urban communities.
“I have a friend who has an autistic daughter, so this is how I knew about the organization. I actually follow the organization on Facebook,” said Takisha Austin on Saturday, April 23.
Although the cousins said it was fortuitous that they went for a walk in the park near their home and came upon the walk, acting Recreation Department Director Osner Charles said encountering the Nassan’s Place 5K Walk for Autism was not a coincidence.
“I don’t believe in luck; this was destined to happen, so that way they can get the information about what we have going on here in the city of East Orange and share it — for example, (Takisha Austin) has a friend with a child that’s affected, so now she can take this information back home and come back and meet Nadine or come down to Recreation to find out what activities we have, to make sure her child is engaged. And, for her, this is a great opportunity for her to network with Nadine, to see how she could be of some assistance, so I don’t believe in luck. This was destined; it was fate,” said Charles on Saturday, April 23.
“For the right cause, rain, sleet, hail, snow; people are coming out. This right here is a testament to the work that Nadine and Nassan’s Place is doing. And it’s also a testament to the work that our mayor, with the support of our city council and our recreation department, is doing. So we are making sure that we get the word out there: autism is something that affects not just our community; it affects all communities.”
Mayor Lester Taylor agreed with Charles, saying “Nassan’s Place fills a critical need in our community, especially as we strive for all-inclusive recreational activities for our children,” on Monday, April 25. “I am so proud of the partnership we continue to cultivate with Nassan’s Place. We are the first and only municipality in the state to offer autism water safety classes through our aquatics program and we are continually seeking opportunities to enhance our services for children affected by autism in East Orange and beyond.”
The Austin cousins said they hadn’t been aware of the programs available to autistic children and their families in East Orange, but now that they know, they won’t hesitate to spread the word.
And according to Wright-Arbubakrr on Saturday, April 23, that is a good thing. “We did good today and I’m just so grateful about the amount of people that came out and braved this weather and I’m just so truly, truly grateful for all the support that we continue to get. However, more is always needed. These families still need accessibility to programs, such as after-school programs, Saturday programs, summer enrichment programs, so support is definitely needed. It’s a continuous basis. So whatever anyone can do to help us, we will be more than happy to accept it.
“We’ve been really fortunate. This year we had some amazing sponsors. Not only that, but all the walkers and attendees that showed their support. Again, in the rain today. It meant a lot.”