April 22, 2019 | 56° F

City oncologist launches organization for autism awareness

When pharmacy oncologist Genevieve Kumapley’s son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with autism, she felt a whirlwind of emotions. She felt anger, denial and grief, but after overcoming these feelings, she learned that this diagnosis had a purpose and began to feel inspired.

Kumapley’s struggles in raising a son with autism motivated her to create the nonprofit organization My Gateway to Overcoming Autism in Life, or MyGOAL.

Kumapley dedicates her time to spreading awareness about autism and offering support to other parents facing the same struggles.

“God gave me Nicholas for a reason,” she said. “Once you find your purpose in life, you find meaning in life, and because of that I’m able to get up everyday and help others.”

She began the organization in May 2008 with her husband, Robert Kumapley.

The organization would not have been possible without the help from her board of directors and the many volunteers that help her facilitate all the programs and events the organization provides.

“They saw the passion, they saw the need, and they really believe that we can help people, we’re not in it to make money, we’re in it for the support,” she said.

Because MyGOAL is a nonprofit organization, Kumapley organizes a number of fundraisers to keep it going.

“Raising money is always hard, but it’s always about raising awareness and supporting families,” she said.

Kumapley said in the past six years, MyGOAL has given more than $24,000 to families in the United States.

MyGOAL also provides to different countries through its International Center for Special Education, according to the MyGOAL website.

Beyond the U.S., MyGOAL has a project, called Haven Project, to set up a self-sustaining special education center in Ghana— Kumapley’s home country.

“I went to Ghana three years ago, and I saw there were hardly any developmental pediatricians for the nation of about 20 million people, and there were only three or four special education schools,” she said. “The need there is so great.”

The vision for Haven is to create a center for training families, teachers, paraprofessionals and practitioners to adequately identify and care for autistic children, according to the MyGOAL website.

The next training session is scheduled for this April, which is Autism Awareness Month. Two professors from The College of New Jersey and a professor from the University of Education, Winneba, from Ghana, will be training teachers.

These sessions will run from April 1 to April 3.

Locally, Kumapley tries to provide resources through education materials and support groups. MyGOAL also offers to send children to summer camp, $250 grants and $1,000 grants to a family every year based on income to help pay for medical needs of autistic children.

MyGOAL is not a member-based organization, but Kumapley said there is a good turn out of returning attendants to their events.

She wants the resources of the organization to be available to the general public, so she has an open door policy with the programs MyGOAL offers.

MyGOAL organizes trips to the movies, the zoo, picnics and other events that allow families to take their children out to socialize with other families who face similar challenges in their lives.

Beyond these events, MyGOAL offers stress management, marriage counseling and support groups for parents and siblings. They also offer educational seminars that inform people about autism treatments, awareness and basic educational rights for children.

Sandra Harris, executive director of the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, said an organization like MyGOAL is important for informing parents of autistic children.

“Autism awareness is prevalent in well educated people, but people with less education may not be as aware of the issues involved with autism,” Harris said.

Kumapley said autism causes challenges in communication and social skills not only for the person with autism, but also for the people having to take care of those suffering. Parents, for instance, have difficulty feeling comfortable sending their children to school and school programs that cater to autistic students’ needs.

“We encourage parents to vocalize their needs and educate them on how to assert their rights,” she said.

Saint Peter’s University Hospital, where Kumapley is currently employed, helps MyGOAL with their efforts in educating these parents.

Phil Hartman, director of public relations at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, said the hospital helps Kumapley with marketing and provides MyGOAL with rooms to hold meetings.

“It’s the sort of thing that is definitely needed,” Hartman said. “Very often we focus on those who are autistic, but we forget about the things that impact the parents, like the ability to provide transportation or proper counseling, so this is a way of filling in those gaps.”

By Erin Walsh

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