Toddler with Autism, Baby with Heart Defect, but Single Mom No Longer Feels Alone

Posted on December 28, 2016 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Check Out the Story behind the Story in This New York Times Neediest Case

 Geraliz pauses just long enough for the photo to snap

For more than a century The New York Times has spotlighted “Neediest Cases,” folks facing extreme hardships, and welcomed help for them from readers. And for more than a decade as liaison between Catholic Charities NY and The New York Times I’ve had the honor to meet some of these brave folks and the dedicated case managers that help them. So this year, I’d like to share with you the stories behind The New York Times Neediest Cases stories, the courage of the people we are honored to serve and the caseworkers who plow through roadblocks to get them the services they need.

A small screeching girl dashes out from wet sheets hanging from makeshift clothes lines as I enter her family’s cramped upper Manhattan apartment. 

The little girl is Geraliz and she has autism, her mom, Paola Infante, tells me as she scoops up her infant son, Joshua, born with a heart deformity, just in time to protect him from Geraliz’ trampling feet.

The moment, to me, seems overwhelming.  Yet it is just another for Ms. Infante.  She hangs the laundry at home because she cannot afford to pay to use the local Laundromat’s dryer.  And, without a washing machine of her own, nearly daily she treks loads of laundry to the Laundromat several street blocks away, balancing baby Joshua on top while trying to hold on to Geraliz with her free hand.

Geraliz, 4, and trapped inside her head by autism cannot talk to express her needs.  Instead, she is a whirl of activity.  She wets her pants; she wets her bed; she grabs her baby brother.  Babysitters come once then refuse to return.

“The children’s father moved out because he did not feel that he could cope with the challenges involved in raising Geraliz,” reports The New York Times in this powerful Neediest Cases profile.

Fortunately, the family found some salvation at Kennedy Child Study Center, a Catholic Charities NY affiliated agency.

Kennedy Child Study Center’s (KCSC’s) mission is to assist children who experience significant delays in learning and other areas of early childhood development.

In the year Geraliz has attended the center’s preschool she has learned to take her mom’s hand to bring her towards what she wants.  Bananas and juice in the refrigerator that, along with the stove and sink, line one wall of the small apartment are favorite destinations.  The bathroom is not.

The Center not only helps Geraliz reach her potential; it helps her family as well.  Now that Geraliz has regular school hours Ms. Infante’s mother pitches in to watch baby Joshua.  This allows Ms. Infante to work part time and attend City College of New York.  If all goes as planned, she will finish college with a teaching degree in five years and lift her family out of poverty.  Joshua, in turn, is scheduled for heart-valve surgery in about a year when he is stronger.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities teams with Kennedy Child Study Center to provide the support they need.  Noting the laundry nightmare, we used our New York Times Neediest Cases funds to buy the family their own washing machine.  More important, Kennedy Child Study Center provides educational support for Geraliz and social service support for the whole family.

Check out this Catholic Charities Kennedy Child Study Center Neediest Cases profile in The New York Times.

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