This Veteran’s Day, members and guests of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills gathered for the organization’s annual philanthropic luncheon. Flamenco was the theme of the occasion.
Each year, the Women’s Club hosts a fundraising event to collect money for a number of Queens-based nonprofits that often don’t receive much federal funding. The main beneficiary of the proceeds from the 2019 function is NY Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC).
Launched in 1999, NYFAC was born from the partnership of five families who came together with the goal of supporting those with autism and other developmental disabilities, as well as the loved ones caring for them.
Now with a staff of more than 100 team members, NYFAC offers resources providing financial and emotional relief. The nonprofit’s program has three basic components, operated both from its headquarters in Howard Beach and within communities across Queens and Brooklyn.
NYFAC’s Community Habilitation program is focused on supporting participants to be as independent as possible.
This includes incorporating daily activities such as socialization, money management and self-care. Families are also offered in-home services that give caregivers a chance for respite.
The organization also runs programs concentrated on social skills, recreation and creativity out of its building on Cross Bay Boulevard.
Youngsters from the ages of eight to 18 have access to after-school activities, while older participants can attend a Day Habilitation program five days a week.
“We are funded almost entirely through Medicaid, and those resources channel through the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities,” said NYFAC’s executive director James Sherry. “The fact that we are so heavily reliant on that funding source makes the privilege of being supported by the Women’s Club even more important for us.”
Sherry explained that NYFAC is in the process of expansion, having seen nearly 70 percent growth in its Day Habilitation program in recent months.
“The other really exciting thing is that in the last couple of weeks we have launched our new website, so we can reach even more families,” he said.
Nearly half of the 300 members enrolled in the Women’s Club came out for this year’s affair, raising funds by purchasing raffle tickets and bidding in a live auction.
Prizes included items donated by local Forest Hills businesses, as well as a number of baskets fitting the afternoon’s Spanish ambiance. Two paintings created by young adults from NYFAC were featured on the auction block as well.
“Philanthropy is a part of our mission,” said Catherine Wigdor, chair of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills Philanthropic Committee, who led the way in producing this year’s luncheon.
The organization has been fundraising for local causes since its inception in 1913.
“We have deep roots in this neighborhood, and especially in this building,” said the club’s former president, Christine O’Brien Beydoun, at the luncheon.
In fact, the Women’s Club was instrumental in facilitating the funds to build the Community House, along with nine other local organizations in the early 1900s. Members sold homemade soap in order to raise money.
Since then, the Women’s Club has taken on the tradition of hosting its annual luncheon to compliment the many smaller-scale philanthropic ventures it organizes throughout the year.
The committee always picks a theme for the afternoon that highlights a different country and its culture.
According to O’Brien Beydoun, the event typically raises between $15,000 and $17,000, the bulk of which goes to one principal nonprofit. In the past, the organization has chosen to donate to foundations like Songs of Love, Venture House and Forestdale, Inc.
“It’s fun to see how people really embrace the theme and give so generously,” she said. “It’s a team effort.”
The women also take the luncheon as an opportunity to celebrate their camaraderie and honor each other for the contributions they make toward the organization’s operations.
At last week’s event, guests were entertained with a powerful dance performance by a troupe of students from the Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca School in Manhattan.
“Flamenco grew out of the fact that the woman who does most of the decorations for the event is of Spanish origin,” said Wigdor. “I wanted to give her something that was meaningful, because she’s put so much effort into making sure that everything looks beautiful. I’m running the event, but I couldn’t do it without many other women being involved.”