May 31, 2018
Stephanie Addo is a longtime Bronxite and a working mother of three. Two of her children attend private school, and her eldest, an 11-year-old boy, attends public school. This decision was not her choice, however. In a perfect world, her first-born would be attending private school with his siblings. But, Addo can only take advantage of the scarce number of services available to her son who was diagnosed with autism.
According to a 2017 Daily News article, poorer areas in New York City are being looked over when it comes to students with disabilities. In the story, 856 children in Bronx District 9 were not getting the support they needed, in a more affluent Manhattan District 1, only 67 children were lacking services. Addo grew tired of being left behind and decided to create a non-profit organization called, ” Champs for Autism.” The organization’s main goal is to open up a private school in the Bronx for kids on the spectrum that is affordable for working class parents.
Although there are two existing schools in the Bronx geared towards autistic students, the upcoming private school will have its set of differences. For one, it will accept state funds, and secondly, academics will be placed the forefront of the institution. ” Academics are put on the back burner,” said Addo, who wants her eldest to have a higher education. But her inquiry of this goal seemed unwelcomed by professionals. ” It was like a foreign question,” Addo said. ” I would want my students to go to college.”
Until then, Addo will continue to carry out the mission of “improving the lives of children with autism,” through hosting events. For instance, on May 6, 2018, Addo spearheaded the Champs for Autism fashion show. Parents and children coming from as far an Indianapolis trekked over to the Mall at Bay Plaza. Children between the ages of 3-16 were able to strut down the runway clad in Gap clothing. ” The child would go out on the stage and be completely fine. Be who they are and be who they want to be,” she said. ” The most rewarding part was watching [ News 12 The Bronx] and watching a father and daughter…the father was crying because he felt like he wasn’t alone.”
The engaged Bronx mom sympathizes with parents who have children with autism. ” Many parents do the best they can, but many parents get tired in the process… a typical person would check out,” Addo said. But she also offered words of advice, ” Keep fighting for your child. Hold on to your dreams and hopes, it does not mean that those dreams can’t come true.”
What keeps Addo pushing forward is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ” Be the change you want to see in the world.”