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School's cookie campaign hopes to raise autism awareness

ELIJA's cookie campaign poster was on display in

ELIJA's cookie campaign poster was on display in front of the "Rainbow of Ribbons." (April 3, 2013) (Credit: Handout)

A favorite snack of children everywhere, cookies have become a tool for raising awareness about autism at one Long Island school.

The ELIJA (Empowering Long Island’s Journey Through Autism) school follows a mission best represented by their motto, “Championing Hope, One Child at a Time.” During autism awareness month, it’s using some deliciously sweet treats to champion its cause.

On April 3rd, The ELIJA School in Levittown held a local event during their autism awareness week in order to launch the first day of their Championing Hope Cookie Campaign. All members of the public were welcomed to the school to celebrate the launching of the campaign as well as take a tour of the facility.

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The ELIJA School partnered with Brooklyn’s Runner & Stone Bakery/Restaurant to create the delicious shortbread customized cookies. Parents chose a cookie shape -- ranging from an ice cream cone to a unicorn -- that best symbolizes the unique character of their children.

The parents of Anthony, a student at the school, chose a seagull to represent the “easy-going, free spirited” nature of their son, stating in their description that Anthony is “gliding through life with a smile on his face, and going wherever the winds take him.”

At the event, the cookies were available for the public to purchase on spot or pre-order and all proceeds went directly to The ELIJA School and its community outreach services.

Robin Havens, a long-time autism advocate and parent, enrolled her son with The ELIJA School in 2006. Over the past seven years, Havens found what she calls an “incredible support system” for her family.

Havens found the cookie campaign to be a great way for the community to relate to the children explaining, “The cookie event is incredibly personal to each child. It’s touching to see how every single family had their own thing that was important to them and their child, and that they took the time to find that symbolism for their child.”

She and her husband Tom chose the shape of a guitar to best represent her son Jake because, she said, “music always brings a huge smile to his face. It’s what he asks for when he wakes up in the morning and what soothes him to sleep in the evenings.”

The event also displayed the school’s ongoing “Rainbow of Ribbons,” where individuals from all over the country wrote messages along a piece of ribbon that is hung along a line for all event attendees to see within the facility. The symbolic impact of both the cookie and ribbon campaigns allowed ELIJA staff, parents and board members of the school to get a sense of just how large the scope of support for autism awareness reaches.

Sana Shadded, the lead clinical supervisor of The ELIJA School, stressed the importance of spreading awareness during community events.

“Lot’s of people have heard of autism at this point, but a lot of people don’t really understand what that means and what autism looks like,” she said.

In what she classified as a science-based environment, Shadded also emphasized how significant it is to educate others, because outside of this school’s environment, many students don’t have the same support in their educational setting.

Having a strong community support system seems to be a common theme reinforced by many advocates at the event, especially Councilman Gary Hudes who attended the autism awareness event in hopes of helping The ELIJA School raise awareness.

“Promoting autism awareness is natural for all of us in the town,” says Hudes, adding that students from MacArthur High School have shown their support by wearing blue shirts in support of autism awareness month.

ELIJA Director Debora Harris Thivierge addressed the crowd at the cookie event and reinforced the need for advocates.

“Autism is more of an impact than anything out there that’s related to children, and so we need everyone’s support on a daily basis,” she said. “For our parents here at the ELIJA school, it’s a struggle every day, but it’s a struggle of love because we love our kids.” 

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