A family from Bayside, Queens moved to Port Washington a few months ago. Neighbors teamed up in opposition to a fence installed in their front yard so their young daughter could play safely outside.
Stevie and Angelo Bovis moved to Port Washington with their 4-year-old daughter, Stella, who is on the autism spectrum. Parents Stevie and Angelo wanted to put a fence up around their front yard to protect their daughter from the dangers of the road while she played outdoors.
After putting up a picket fence, neighbors noticed and privately discussed their dislike for the fence, scheming how to get the fence taken down. Neighbors felt the fence disrupted the aesthetics of their neighborhood and worked together to protest the fence through a petition and letter to the North Hempstead Town Board. The neighbors learned that without a variance granted from the Town of North Hempstead, fences in front yards are not allowed in Port Washington.
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena discussed the Bovis family and their situation in her recent State of the Town Address at the end of January.
“Although we as elected officials work to do all we can to protect and support our most vulnerable communities, unfortunately, there are still people out there who do not share these same values,” Supervisor DeSena said. “Stevie and Angelo Bovis found this out the hard way as their neighbors rose up in opposition to a fence installed so their daughter Stella could safely play outdoors.”
Recently, after a long and expensive legal battle, a variance was granted by the Town of North Hempstead’s Board of Zoning Appeals to allow the fence. The board noted that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the fence was allowed as it is a reasonable accommodation for Stella’s needs.
“Despite this happy ending, I still would like to extend my deepest sympathies that their family was put through this ordeal, and hope that this will raise awareness going forward of what is considered a reasonable accommodation,” said Supervisor DeSena.
A few days after the State of the Town Address, Supervisor DeSena visited the Bovis family home in Port Washington, along with community activists and members of the Port Washington Police Department. This visit brought along a sign from the Town of North Hempstead Highway Department; the sign reads ‘Autism Child Area.’ Multiple signs were installed on their street.
“The sign is amazing. Anything that helps support my daughter and anyone who has a disability,” said Stevie Bovis at the Feb.2 sign reveal outside of her family home. “The outreach has been amazing and makes us feel much more welcome.”
“I am proud to announce that I have directed our Highway Department to install “Autism Child Area” signs along their street to further protect the health and wellbeing of Stella,” said Supervisor DeSena. “I urge residents who would like a similar sign brought to their neighborhood to reach out to either my office or their local Councilmember, and we will gladly work to get this done.”
Supervisor DeSena, local activists, and the Port Washington Police Department have expressed great compassion and empathy for the Bovis family and all they have gone through to keep their daughter safe.
The co-founder of a local Port Washington organization that supports the independence and well-being of the autism community attended the sign reveal at the Bovis family home. Stella L. Spanakos, a co-founder of The Nicholas Center, spoke in support of improving the neighborhood’s safety.
“To raise a special needs child takes more than a village; it takes awareness, action and a whole lot of support,” said Spanakos.
The Nicholas Center was proud to stand with Town of North Hempstead Supervisor DeSena, the Port Washington Police Department, and community members, including parents of a child with autism, to bring attention and signage to help safeguard their neighborhood for their child.
“Small steps make big changes. We are proud to see the community come together for this special family,” The Nicholas Center wrote to the Port Washington News.
Port Washington’s North Hempstead Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte visited the Bovis family to show support and let them know they have a voice in the community.
“I visited the home a few weeks ago with Stella Spankos of The Nicholas Center, Robert DelMuro, Port Washington Police Department Chief, and many others from the PWPD,” said Councilwoman Dalimonte. “We wanted to let them know that they have a friend in us. The family has my personal cell phone, and I’m always here for them.”
Councilwoman Dalimonte shared her support for the Bovis family on Facebook, where the post received many appreciative and compassionate comments. Residents shared their joy for the Bovis family’s win and expressed excitement for the young family to join the community.
Other Port parents of children with autism commented on the post to offer further support and admiration for the Bovis’ accomplishment. One local Facebook user, Jennifer Scotto-Robinson, wrote, “Autism parents unite!”
After viewing some of the touching comments on the post, Councilwoman Dalimonte added a statement saying: “I truly feel that we need to have a support group for parents/grandparents who have children regardless of age with Autism. I have sent a Facebook message to the amazing Stella Spanakos to see if she will help me set this up.”
Although neighbors let hate and pride get the best of them regarding the Bovis’ fence, the Port Washington community and town of North Hempstead government came together to give the Bovis family the support they deserve.