Belleville Local 28 Executive Board member Grover Lewis sympathized with the three members of the Local who have children on the autism spectrum.
So for Autism Awareness Month, Lewis wanted to create an event to help support the community as well as law enforcement officers who have children with autism.
“Grover’s wife teaches special needs, so he sees it firsthand,” explained Armando Nardone, the Local 28 State Delegate. “So I think Grover, being a PBA executive member, wanted to contribute back to the other officers and to the community.”
The Local, along with the Belleville Police Department, outfitted its patrol vehicles, motorcycles and even parking enforcement vehicles with Belleville Police magnets designed with the autism awareness puzzle-piece logo.
The officers started wearing a Belleville Police patch with the autism logo as well, which they had to buy. But with the patches gaining so much popularity and the community’s increasing donations, the officers are considering making T-shirts to sell to the public.
“The ball is rolling and now it’s rolling fast,” Nardone noted. “This is the first year we focused in on autism awareness, and the community sees the magnets on the vehicles. It’s spreading by word of mouth.”
Local 28 members will be using the donations raised to support their in-house family first. The Local will be reaching out to members who have children with autism to figure out if the kids need any help.
“The members were very appreciative that we are doing an event for autism,” Nardone remarked. “We haven’t presented the officers with anything yet since we are still collecting donations, but they were very touched and emotional.”
The remaining funds will be donated to an autism awareness charity. Nardone wants to donate a hefty sum to the cause but mentioned the struggle of raising money during the COVID pandemic.
“It’s more difficult to do fundraisers and raise community awareness right now,” Nardone observed. “But doing it virtually is one way of getting the message out there while keeping your distance during COVID.”
Nardone emphasized that the Local’s efforts to raise awareness for causes like autism are crucial to building relationships with the community. Seeing members and residents dealing with the same struggles helps bridge that gap between law enforcement and the community.
“And that’s why the members do what they do and we do what we do,” Nardone declared.