Super salesman Mario Carey looked out at the group gathered at 7 am in a meeting room at the British Colonial Hilton knowing that he had only a few minutes to make one of the most important sales of his life — to persuade an audience of Rotarians who had already given $25,000 to create the first specially equipped classroom for pre-school age children with autism to reach into their pockets again to salvage financially strapped autism support organisation R.E.A.C.H. and the upcoming summer camp.
“We get no money from (the) government and all of our services are provided for free,” said Carey, president of R.E.A.C.H. “Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder. It increased 78% in the last six years and right now affects one in every 88 births, according to a 2012 report by the Centre for Disease Control. One in every 56 boys born in the U.S. today is diagnosed with autism, whether it is high-functioning Asperger’s or a child who is so socially challenged that he does not communicate and lives in a solitary world that we cannot even imagine,” said Carey, whose own son, Cole, now 16, has Asperger’s.
“Cole is the reason I am up here today. He is my inspiration. I am among the fortunate,” he continued. “I can afford the extra care, the special school where Cole is now and is doing fabulously well. But most parents of autistic children in The Bahamas are poor. That is why all our services are free, our education, camp, counselling, weekly support groups, the expert we bring in to train teachers and caregivers. We have trained more than 300 this year in Nassau and Freeport, thanks in part to your help from Rotary. We pay all those expenses, airfare, hotel room, and they give of their time for free because they see the need. Most parents in The Bahamas can’t afford to pay and we don’t want to do anything to discourage them. We want them to know there is help, support, there is a camp in the summer where these children who can’t go to any other mainstream camp — not the police camps or church camps or private camps — can go.”
Now, for the first time in 13 years that camp is threatened. With $56 in the bank account, Carey is hoping for a miracle, a donation.
About 70 children attended the camp last year, a summer program designed especially for the youngsters whose sensitivity to sound, light, unexpected activity is heightened along with their literal interpretation of the spoken word. Tell an autistic child to keep his ear to the ground and he will literally lie down with his ear to the floor. There is no understanding of subtlety and often none of humour. Yet some of the world’s greatest minds and inventions have been those of autistic people, Albert Einstein among them, many other mathematicians and musical geniuses.
Brad Heney, a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club of New Providence that Carey was addressing, knows firsthand what it is like. His son, too, is autistic and now 21, with a photographic memory is able to work in a three storey furniture warehouse abroad, the star employee because he remembers where every item, no matter how small, has been stored. Carey cited the extraordinary case of a man with autism who was flown over Manhattan and after the 30-minute flight drew the entire city, every street, building, window and door.
On this day, Carey needed to reach hearts. This is not, he said, a PLP or an FNM thing, this is not about politics, this is about Bahamian lives.
“This is about a summer camp where the siblings of autistic children can also come for free and spend quality time with them. It’s also unique because it allows teachers to earn their required continuing education certification by working with children with special needs without leaving The Bahamas. There is a huge void in qualified teachers for students with special needs, it’s a serious problem and this is one small way we can assist with training. There are also education students, interns, who volunteer and when the child with autism ages out at 19, they can work at the camp and earn a stipend. We have five graduates from Anatol Rodgers High School Special Needs Unit who are employed twice a week at Gavin Tynes Centre for Autism and may assist at the camp this summer. They set up the classrooms, serve the lunch, clear away. But we can’t do any of this without the public’s help. We need you. These children need you.”
Donations may be made through www.gofundme.org or by phoning the R.E.A.C.H. office at 328-4123 or calling Mario Carey at 357-7013.