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Ozone Park autism nonprofit honors Paterson

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An Ozone Park−based nonprofit that helps autistic children honored Gov. David Paterson and seven others last week during a fund−raising dinner at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach.

New York Families for Autistic Children, founded in 1998 by Community Education Council 27 President Andrew Baumann and his wife, Pamela, provides services for 4,200 autistic kids.

During the dinner, the group unveiled a rendering for their new home after acquiring property near Centerville Street and Pitkin Avenue in Ozone Park.

The new building will include a gym and space for after−school programs, Baumann said.

Paterson was given the group’s Guardian Angel award for his support of autism causes, which includes his creation of an interagency cooperative that will study what can be done for children affected with the condition.

“Thank you for bestowing on me your Guardian Angel award,” the governor said, before thanking those “who have worked so hard on this organizati­on.”

Paterson, who is legally blind, said his youth was similar to children who have autism.

“Your governor had a taste, in gulps and gallons, of what they experience today,” he said.

He noted how his family moved from Manhattan to Long Island in his early years because the city’s school system would not put him in a class with students who did not have a disability.

“Being different to other children seemed to be a huge incumberan­ce,” Paterson said.

Autistic children “are nonetheless extraordinary and do not deserve less of our attention and less of our service,” he said to applause. “They are in need.”

Baumann said his group asked former Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer to set up an autism coalition, but their requests were not granted. Paterson, however, established an autism initiative four months after being sworn in “and we didn’t even ask him,” he said.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D−Howard Beach), state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D−Rockaway Beach), City Councilman−elect Eric Ulrich (R−Ozone Park) and Councilman David Weprin (D−Hollis) also attended the event.

Weprin presented NYFAC with a $75,000 check.

The other elected officials praised the group’s work.

“Where would we all be without NYFAC?” Addabbo asked.

“There are so many families in Ozone Park that have been touched by the beautiful work that NYFAC does,” Ulrich said.

Pheffer said the organization has come a long way since it was founded 11 years ago.

“I had watched NYFAC grow from an idea to a need,” she said. “That’s what happened.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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