The mission statement on the Ed Asner Family Center website is broad: “To promote self-confidence in differently abled individuals and bring balance and wellness to those individuals and their families.”
For neurodiverse kids and young people, this means programming that includes ballroom dancing, voiceover classes, adaptive karate, culinary class, health and fitness, comic-book making, fine arts, dance, yoga, a teen sex education and social-media awareness program and a 21-and-over social club. For parents and caregivers, founders Matt Asner and Navah Paskowitz-Asner are, among other things, hoping to get you out of your car.
“When you go to therapies and you wait for your child, you end up waiting in your car because there’s no place comfortable to go,” Navah tells me on a late summer afternoon in an office full of the most delightful clutter. She and Matt explain that the open, airy main room we’ve just walked through on our campus tour would soon be converted from the center of summer-camp programming to welcoming lounge space. The center, named after Matt’s actor father and opened last year in Reseda, one winter and two summer camps and, after Labor Day, will offer fall programming for the first time.
Matt and Navah understand the need for what they are offering because it’s what they need, too. Their blended family includes three sons with autism. “Created by our family for your family was really what Matt and I needed as single parents once upon a time, with autistic sons and really struggling and feeling alone, like we didn’t have a community,” Navah says.
And the community they are creating is an inclusive one.
Beginning Sept. 3, the center will be open from noon-8 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun. with after-school and enrichment programming for ages 5 and up. My tour features glimpses of several enticing facilities, including a voiceover and green-screen studio, spaces that just scream for visitors to get messy making art (with murals painted by Matt and Navah’s daughter Avivah throughout for inspiration), a spacious kitchen and an inviting outdoor play space. An adult day program including vocational skills and expressive arts is scheduled to begin in December. “We want to make sure that we’re across the age spectrum,” says Matt. “It’s very important to us that we serve everyone and that everyone has an opportunity here.”
He urges parents to take advantage of the center’s cozy lobby – which includes, among other perks, a miniature Sprouts grocery store stocked with healthy snacks. Because there’s more to do at the Ed Asner Family Center than just wait for your kids. “There will be a great opportunity for both after-school enrichment and parental classes,” says Navah. The center has also partnered with CSUN to offer mental-health services.
“The ultimate would be that parents come here and they’re able to have a therapy session and able to take care of themselves a little bit,” says Matt. But he stresses that these services are available for the entire family. “We have two kids that could benefit from therapy, and we’ve been looking for the right situation for them and it’s really hard. There’s a void out there of mental-health services. We wanted to make sure that was available to people.”
Navah and Matt have especially been reaching beyond the autism community. “Our center is for all special-needs families, not just for autism,” Navah says. “Matt and I come from the autism community, but I really want to get the word out that if you have a child with Angelman syndrome or Down syndrome or CP, we are here for all families.”
There will be support groups, including an LGBTQ support group (created by self-advocates on the autism spectrum from the Camp Ed staff), as well as community events such as karaoke and movie nights and a monthly “Ed Talk.” “They can be anything from a presentation on IEPs or being autistic in this world, or it could be a one-act play,” says Matt, adding that talks will be livestreamed and archived online.
Much of the programming has been inspired by parents and will continue to evolve as families offer feedback. “It’s something that is so needed in every community,” Navah says. “If you need help, we’re here to help you. Just call us.”
That spirit of genuine, friendly helpfulness pervades this space that the two have, in Matt’s words, “poured our lives into,” and where other members of the Paskowitz-Asner clan (daughters, sons, brothers) can be found on a daily basis. “This has really turned into a place that I enjoy coming,” Matt says.
It’s a place Matt and Navah hope your family will enjoy coming, too.
Learn more about The Ed Asner Family Center, its programming and pricing options at www.edasnerfamilycenter.org.