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Autism walk draws thousands to Jones Beach despite rain

Supporters walk during the 2016 Autism Speaks Walk,

Supporters walk during the 2016 Autism Speaks Walk, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, at Jones Beach. Credit: Johnny Milano

Despite chilly weather for the second consecutive year, thousands of Long Islanders walked along the Jones Beach boardwalk in Wantagh Sunday to draw attention to autism.

“Everybody came out. It shows how wonderful it is when the community comes together for a great cause,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino said at the morning event.

The annual Walk for Autism Speaks raises funds and awareness for the neurodevelopment disorder.

Westbury resident Ray Smith said it used to be difficult parenting a son with autism, but he’s since learned to cope with it.

“It was hard in the beginning,” Smith, 49, said of his son, Rayshawn, a 17-year-old senior at Mineola High School.

But Smith participates in the walk annually to highlight the cause.

Michael Giangregorio, an executive board member for the Long Island chapter of Autism Speaks, said he expected 20,000 people to gather for the fundraiser.

“We’re never disappointed by the turnout,” he said.

He anticipated $1.2 million would be collected for research and advocacy, and that the organization would soon pressure lawmakers to support their cause.

As the walk got underway, more than $600,000 had been raised.

Dimitri Elie, 30, of West Babylon, walked with about 40 others in support of a Freeport High School student.

“At the end of the day, this could be your child. We’re trying to help children with special needs,” he said.

Also participating in the walk was Miss Long Island Teen 2017, Taylor Yaeger, whose platform is to raise autism awareness.

“It’s something that has touched my heart and I want people to know about it,” said Yaeger, 18, of Dix Hills. She added she has come across many youths affected by autism.

Roosevelt resident Keisha Sains, 45, attended with several members of her Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

“We walk every year. We care about children. Autism affects people from all walks of life,” she said.

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