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Focusing on autism awareness

RVC Blue Speaks to light Village Hall tree blue for charity

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RVC Blue Speaks, a Rockville Centre-based autism awareness organization, will light the Village Hall tree blue in collaboration with the village beginning April 5 to honor those with autism spectrum disorder to mark World Autism Month.

Around the world, April is dedicated to increasing awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with autism. Since its inception in 2017, RVC Blue Speaks has raised more than $250,000 for autism research, support and education.

“A lot of the children on the spectrum cannot speak, and that’s why we named our organization RVC Blue Speaks: because we want to be the voice for them,” said an emotional Anthony Cancellieri, co-chair of the group’s board of directors. “A lot of the kids have difficulties in that respect, so they need a voice.”

The Village Hall tree, which is lit up to mark special occasions, has become a kind of symbol in the community, Cancellieri said. This is the first time it will be lit in blue to support the cause, in lieu of the organization’s annual gala, which was canceled last year and this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The gala, the group’s main fundraiser, is usually held in April.

Signs near the tree will explain its lighting for the month of April. Organizers invite community members to show their support by purchasing blue ribbons from Art Flower & Gift Shoppe to adorn the trees outside their homes. The bows are $10 each, and all of the proceeds will be donated to RVC Blue Speaks, organizers said.

This year’s fundraising campaign aims to maintain the momentum of promoting autism awareness, and to raise $50,000 for autism education, scientific research and family support. “Because the problems that these individuals on the spectrum and their families have continue, even though there’s a pandemic,” Cancellieri said, “so they have like a double whammy. And they certainly need whatever help they can get, more so now than ever.”

About one in 54 children have autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Rockville Centre residents Anthony and Mary Lou Cancellieri founded RVC Blue Speaks when their grandson, Louis, was diagnosed with autism at age 2. “We feel we’re blessed, and we want to help in any way we possibly can,” Anthony said, adding that his grandson is doing well.

The organization also donates funds for grants and scholarship programs, and supports the Seaver Autism Center for Research & Treatment at Mount Sinai, Autism Speaks, the Hagedorn Little Village School, the RVC High School Scholarship Fund, the Adelphi University Bridges Program and other organizations focused on helping those with ASD.

“Over the past four years, Rockville Centre and the surrounding communities have generously opened their hearts and donated to support families affected by autism,” Cancellieri said. “On behalf of the RVC Blue Speaks board of directors, we [are] very grateful for your continued generosity.”

“One of the main reasons why I’m doing it is because I truly believe that autism is a really good cause to raise money for,” said Keith Linsalata, owner of Art Flower & Gift Shoppe, adding that RVC Blue Speaks members have autistic people’s best interests at heart.

The bows will be sold throughout the month of April. For more information about RVC Blue Speaks or to learn more about lighting it up blue next month, go to www.rvcbluespeaks.org or visit the group on Facebook @RVCBlueSpeaks.

“Despite the pandemic, life goes on for these folks,” Cancellieri said, “and they need help and we want to make sure that we provide that help.”