Lake Area Industry Alliance Benefits SWLA SchoolsSeptember 2023
Halloween GuideSeptember 2023
By Haley Armand Tarasiewicz
Odds are, you and/or someone you know loves someone with Autism. In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports 1 in 36 children within the United States is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Early interventions can greatly affect the trajectory of a child’s life.
“When I was searching for help for my son when he was diagnosed with Autism, there were very limited resources in Lake Charles,” said Christy Papania-Jones, founder and Executive Director. “By his third birthday, my husband, Chris, and I had traveled the country seeking specialists to provide him with the best future possible. That’s when we decided to bring a therapy center to Southwest Louisiana.”
Since October 30, 2008, St. Nicholas Center for Children has provided services to hundreds of children from infants to young adults diagnosed with Autism, developmental delays, and neurological disorders in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas. In addition, the non-profit provides ABA technicians at local schools, parent/staff trainings and free workshops for teachers and daycare providers through its outreach services.
“We pride ourselves on offering multiple therapeutic services—ABA, Speech and Occupational therapies—all under one roof, so that we can meet the needs of the whole child as we work collaboratively to create individualized goals and action plans,” said Katherine Cole, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Case Manager, MA, LBA. “Taking the ‘it takes a village’ approach further, we host the annual Louisiana Autism Conference, where more than 300 parents, educators, therapists, first responders and others come together to learn practical strategies to work with and care for individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. When you set aside the time to educate yourself and others about Autism, you help breakdown stigma barriers to create a more inclusive environment.”
“Autism affects the entire family,” added Zack Storer, Clinical Director and BCBA. “Our team of talented and dedicated professionals are here to provide acceptance, inclusion, support and advocacy. Every day, I witness the resilient children and families we serve grow and learn skills that are truly life changing. It’s more than just a job; it’s a chance to be a part of positive transformations, and I’m grateful for that privilege. They inspire me to be a better therapist.”
As the number of people diagnosed with Autism increases, so does the need for access to services. Cassie Hudson, Business Director, stresses the greatest challenge right now is having enough staff to serve all of the children needing help. “We are always looking for compassionate and enthusiastic people to join our team and show love to our clients.” Recently, the St. Nicholas Center relocated to 4066 Ryan Street, providing for 18,000 square feet of space, to increase service capacity.
Melissa Priola, Assistant Executive Director, says they hope to continue to make an even greater difference over the next five years, especially as their client population transitions into adults. “Some of our first clients are now young adults working in our community, and we are looking for ways to foster independence and teach vocational skills. They are living proof that early intervention works.”
Claire Rider, Donor Relations, is grateful for the outpouring of support the center receives from the community. “The gifts of time, talents, and treasures that people and businesses offer our children are vital to our operations and their continued progress!”
Board of Directors’ President Shayne Laughlin encourages anyone inspired to schedule a tour of the center and visit with the multidisciplinary team to learn how you can get involved from a volunteer, financial and advocacy standpoint to support our Autism community.
To learn more about the St. Nicholas Center for Children, visit their website at www.stnickcenter.org or call 337-491-0800.
Louisiana Autism Conference
Wednesday, October 25
L’Auberge Casino Resort
Register at lac2023.planningpod.com