NAUGATUCK — About three years ago, Naugatuck YMCA Youth and Family Director Sherri Beck started an autism support group to help individuals and families. The program is one of many at the YMCA that tend to fly under the radar, but it recently caught the attention of a borough businessman.
The YMCA hosted a holiday party this month for its Board of Directors. At the party, YMCA directors give a brief rundown and update of their programs. That is where board member Marcelo Martins, who owns and runs Luso Cleaning Service with his family, heard Beck talk about the autism support group.
During the party, Beck recalled, Martins asked her about the program and how much it costs to run. At first, Beck said, she thought Martins was asking to find out whether the program was costing too much. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that wasn’t the case. Martins wanted to make a donation to the support group.
“It really was such a surprise,” Beck said. “Our group is small. We don’t do a lot of publicizing of it, and for someone to believe in our program and understand what we need, that was huge.”
Last week Martins attended one of the group’s meetings to help decorate cookies for a community service project and present Beck with a $2,000 donation on behalf of Luso Cleaning Service for the group.
Outside of the school system, Martins said there really isn’t anything around to support families and people with autism. The support group offers them a place to go, socialize and talk with someone who understands what they are going through, he said.
Martins added it’s important for the community to know what goes on at the YMCA. The YMCA is more than a pool and fitness center, and doesn’t just help seniors and children, he said. There are many programs, like the autism support group, that impact people’s lives.
“It’s amazing what this YMCA does for our community,” Martins said. “It fills the void in so many different places.”
The autism support group meets twice a month. Typically, Beck explained, the adults stay together for a casual discussion or to listen to a guest speaker, while the children play with YMCA staff. Then everyone comes together for pizza, which is paid for by group members, she said.
Beck has been hoping to expand the program to include an arts therapy component. The donation will pay to make that vision a reality.
Beck said many of the families have additional medical expenses and something like art therapy may be out of their reach. Now, she said, they will have access to it at the YMCA.
“It will be right in our hometown,” she said.