Staff and children hold hands during a sports program class. Photo by Michael Furino.
Every Saturday for the past four months, Michael Sforza, 11, spends his morning at Be the Best Sport, track and field lessons in Port Washington, Long Island. Running, leaping and landing on two feet doesn’t seem difficult for most, but for Sforza, spending 45 minutes at the Port Washington Tennis Academy, running back and forth to constantly perfect his form is an accomplishment his father couldn’t be more proud of.
Sforza enjoys sports, video games, the internet and exercising, but what differentiates him from most children his age is that he has autism. Sforza was diagnosed when he was 20 months old. His father, Nick Sforza said that although his son likes to be at home on the computer, this program, allows Sforza to get out of the house and spend time doing what he loves to do, run.
About six years ago, Nick Sforza heard about the sports organization for special needs children in Nassau County, which offers an array of programs ranging from soccer, basketball, track and field and others.
Edgar Sanchez, the Sports Program Director, said that although the organization is sports oriented, children also learn how to improve their listening skills and social functioning.
“One of the kids that we had in the previous class, he would walk around flailing his arms, falling on the ground, said Sanchez. “Any bit of sensory stimulation that was too much for him, he couldn’t handle it, and now, he comes in and he knows what’s expected out of him. He’s able to control his emotions so much more.”
Since 2009 Be the Best Sport has been providing Nassau County with sport programs for special needs adults and children. The organization aims to strengthen their motor, cognitive, and social skills.
The CDC reported that in 2016 nearly one in 68 children in the U.S. have autism.
Ameera Ullah, 14, who has microcephaly, a condition where the brain develops abnormally.also participates in the program. Her father, Sayeed Ullah, said that there are three components that all humans need to benefit your life.
“Sports to give strength, music for amusement and education for tools of success,” he said. “These three elements are very important in human life.”
When Ameera was one and a half years old, her father noticed something was wrong when she was only crawling. A neurologist determined that Ameera had microcephaly, now, at 14, Ameera’s brain functions like a 3 year old.
Whether or not the town or county provides sports programs for special needs children, Sayeed Ullah believes that doesn’t give an excuse for parents to overlook their children’s needs.
“Some towns don’t have it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the parents should sit on the couch. Physical fitness is very important for making your mind feel fresh and healthy. If the community doesn’t provide it, you as a parent need to move forward, look forward.”
Nick Sforza said he is grateful that his son has sports in his life.
“I think the hardest thing for a parent with a child on the spectrum is there aren’t enough things to do for them,” said Nick Sforza as he smiled while watching his son run his last lap around the track. “To have the ability to do this with him, it means more than anything.”
Sonic Suds in Elizabeth, New Jersey is where laundromat worker, Jessenia Arriaza, claims terror suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, spent hours in the day after his alleged attack in New York City. Photo by Kelly Braun
Jessenia Arriaza said she came face to face with New York City bomber suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami the day after the attack, that wounded 29 people in Chelsea.
Arriaza, 20, said she was working at Sonic Suds, a laundromat on Morris Avenue in Elizabeth, New Jersey, just about a half of a mile away from the Elizabeth Train Station. Right before she saw Rahami on Sunday night he had allegedly placed a backpack containing five bombs in a trash can near the train station.
Police said two men found the bomb in a backpack.
Arriaza noticed the short, brown-haired and brown-eyed man just “lounging” on the counter near the front desk of Sonic Suds.
“He came in here and he was washing clothes, but around 10:30p.m. I noticed he wasn’t washing anything,” said Arriaza, as she folded the freshly cleaned clothing that she had just taken out of the dryer. “He left after an hour and he came back in and he was just standing right there and he was just looking at me and then around 11:30p.m. he left.”
Arriaza said she had seen Rahami twice and that during this last visit he did not talk to anyone.
She had no idea he was an alleged terrorist. But the next day when she saw his photo on the news, she knew he was the man in the store.
“I knew it was him because I turned on the news and he had the gray shirt and everything,” said Arriaza.
During the two hours that Rahami was inside the laundromat, the Union County Bomb Squad, Federal Bureau of Investigation and New Jersey State Police were just down the road investigating the backpack full of explosives that police believe Rahami had planted at the Elizabeth Train Station.
Arriaza’s sister, Jamie Arriaza had heard about the backpack that was found at the train station through the news. She also knew her sister worked just blocks away so she called her to let her know.
Arriaza, who was working at the laundromat until midnight that Sunday night, was on the phone with her sister when the F.B.I. was investigating the backpack that had “wires and a pipe” in it. After realizing the possible dangerous threat, the Union County Bomb Squad examined the backpack with a drone and determined that there was a chance that the bomb could be live.
The authorities sent in a pair of robots to test the backpack left at the train station.
“The bomb went off at like 12:40 a.m. or something,” Jamie Arriaza, 19. She said that she had heard the explosion while on the phone with her sister. “She was on her way home and left her charger so she came back to open the laundry, get her phone charger, and she was like ‘yo, you heard that?’”
Jamie Arriaza knew of the Rahami family and said that the news of this was shocking and that “he [Ahmad Rahami] was a really good boy.”
Jamie Arriaza described Rahami as someone who came out of a really good family of brothers who had all graduated high school. But Rahami had a record of run-ins with the police.
She said the time he spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan changed him.
“He went over there and came back messed up,” she said.
The Arriaza sisters said they were still shocked about what had happened just a few blocks away from not only the laundromat, but their home. They said that no one had known that Rahami was in the laundromat at the time that the bombs were placed by the train station.
“The scary part was he was here, not washing clothes until 11:30p.m.,” said Jamie Arriaza. “What if he was watching, waiting for it to explode?”