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Garden City center to serve autistic kids and their families

A center that provides services to autistic children and their parents is planned for a former law office in Garden City.

Life's WORC, a not-for-profit agency known for its group homes for the developmentally disabled, wants to expand its autism services to include parents and other family members of the affected children.

The $1.6 million project involves the purchase and renovation of 1517 Franklin Ave., a three-story brick structure next door to the Life's WORC headquarters and across the street from Nassau County's executive and legislative building.

"We're taking a family-centric approach that provides programs and services for the entire family, not just for the autistic child," Matthew P. Zebatto, assistant executive director for development and public affairs at Life's WORC, said Friday.

"We already provide services to about 400 families. The new center will add an additional 1,000 families," he said, adding that the center would be open seven days a week but would not serve as a residence or group home.

The center will add 64 jobs to the Life's WORC payroll of about 800 people. Records show that employees earn, on average, $38,247 per year.

The Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corp. agreed this week to issue and sell up to $2.5 million in bonds for Life's WORC to support the center.

Joseph J. Kearney, chief executive of the assistance corporation, said not-for-profit groups save interest expenses by having government issue bonds, and that savings "make more services available." He added: "The autism population is growing exponentially. Autism is akin to an epidemic."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder and it's more prevalent in boys.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano called the services offered by Life's WORC important for the developmentally disabled and said, "We are proud to partner with them."

Life's WORC, formerly known as the Women's Organization for Retarded Children, played a key role in the 1970s in exposing the ill treatment of patients at the now-closed Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, along with television journalist Geraldo Rivera.

Neal Schweifel, assistant executive director for operations at Life's WORC, said it hopes to open the autism center in November.

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