The annual summer gala to benefit The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs is on Thursday, July 21
Every summer, The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs host the Night In White to commemorate another year of progress in the autism community. The partner organizations offer pre-vocational training, an introduction to the world of work and productive experiences in the community to autistic individuals.
The organization honors individuals and/or groups that have positively impacted the autism community at the gala. For the 11th Night In White, Bianca and Rob DeGaudenzi and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC) are being honored for their dedication and work for The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs.
Co-Founders Stella Spanakos and Nichole Sugrue worked to build The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs as a welcoming and beneficial program for autistic adults. When Spanakos’ husband Paul tragically passed away from a heart attack, Spanakos channeled her grief into creating The Nicholas Center with her long-time friend Sugrue.
Before the passing of her husband, Spanakos and her husband began to talk about their son Nicholas and his future as someone on the autism spectrum. Spanakos didn’t like what she saw in the programs she was researching and was very concerned about what they would do. This concern inspired conversations about creating a program for kids like Nicholas to “teach them the skills they needed and support them in employment,” said Spanakos.
After researching businesses that individuals on the autism spectrum would thrive in, Spanakos and Sugrue came across t-shirt printing. After that, Spanakos’ barn was transformed into a studio where her son Nicholas and his classmates would come down for a couple of hours a day to learn and work. Spanakos and Sugrue worked to create and finalize plans, programming and instructions for The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs.
In Greek Orthodox tradition, a formal mourning period is a year. So for the year following Spanakos’ husband’s death, she wore black every day. On June 7, 2011, the year long mourning period was over and Spanakos no longer wore black. The change in clothing inspired her and Sugrue to plan Night In White to fundraise for their newly formed organizations and honor the memory of Spanakos’ husband.
“We needed to buy an awful lot of equipment to get the building up and going,” said Spanakos. “The first Night In White was in honor and memory of my husband, so from that point on, we do it every year with everyone dressed in white. It’s a great tradition where we can honor a family that has been instrumental in helping us along the journey.”
When talking about honoring Bianca and Rob DeGaudenzi, Spanakos said that “they’ve really stepped up to the plate and been there from the beginning. They understood what I wanted and what we would embark on for our children.”
Bianca and Rob DeGaudenzi have three sons together, and when their son Nicholas who is on the autism spectrum, began school, they were introduced to Spanakos. The family lives in Manhasset, and their kids went to the Manhasset Public School District, which has a Parent Association for Special Education Families (PASE).
When Bianca and Rob’s son joined the school district, Bianca found PASE and went to a meeting, where she met the group’s president, Spanakos.
“The next generation of moms was coming along, and autism was becoming a vocabulary word for them,” said Spanakos. “Then in walks to the meeting Bianca who had a son named Nicholas, just like mine, and she becomes a member of PASE. She was there when we were developing and expanding the special education program for the school.”
Bianca joined the organization and looked to the parents that came before her for guidance, as it was her first experience with a child in special education.
“At that time, Stella was the president, and I was so happy to join that organization because she was another parent with a son with autism, like mine,” said Bianca. “I feel like I was kind of following in her footsteps; she was paving the way for students like my son.”
Since Spanakos’ son has aged out of the system, Bianca has played a more significant role in PACE. She was the president for several years and is “currently the treasurer to allow other people the opportunity to step up,” said Bianca.
Bianca and Rob’s son began going to The Nicholas Center part-time, doing a half-day at school and a few hours at The Nicholas Center.
“[Our son] is so happy at the Nicholas Center, and he thrives around their incredible team of dedicated and passionate people,” said Bianca. “He is happy to go every day, and we are happy he is close by and a part of an amazing community of people.”
Now, Nicholas is full-time at The Nicholas Center, and the more time he has spent there, the more Bianca and Rob got involved.
“I asked Rob to be on the board of Spectrum Designs Foundation,” said Spanakos. “He works for PWC and is brilliant in a lot of the financial planning and other business aspects.”
Rob feels he came onto the board at a perfect time, as he was ready to become more actively engaged in working with the autism community. As a partner with PWC, Rob has a tax and accounting background in business-oriented issues.
“I took a spot on Spectrum’s board right before COVID-19 hit in 2020,” said Rob. “During that time, there were many challenges and issues facing businesses. It was exciting to join [Spectrum Design’s] great board and play a role in working through some of the issues that came from the challenges during COVID-19.”
Rob explained PWC’s pro-bono program, where the company allows its people to dedicate their time to various non-profit initiatives. Spectrum Designs needed to develop a strategic business plan, so Rob was able to put together a team of four business consultants from PWC to do various interviews, data gathering, and analysis to help create the five-year business plan. The team has recently taken on The Nicholas Center in a similar project to look at its business model and evaluate its strategic comparatives.
“I’ve been very involved with Spectrum on the board and with The Nicholas Center in this project,” said Rob. “It has allowed me the chance to get underneath the hood and see the workings of The Nicholas Center to have a whole new appreciation for them and the tremendous value that they provide.”
While Spanakos expresses her gratitude for this “dynamic couple,” the DeGaudenzi’s feel the same gratefulness for her and The Nicholas Center.
“From my perspective, she’s honoring us, but we should really be honoring her for all she has done,” said Bianca.
“[The Nicholas Center and Spectrum Designs] are truly world-class organizations,” said Rob. “I’ve worked with some of the largest companies in the world, and I see the way these two organizations run, and it is truly amazing. Everyone who works there is so excited to be there and show up.”
The Night In White will be held at the North Hempstead Country Club in Port Washington on Thursday, July 21 from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Ticket and sponsorship opportunities will be available soon; for more information, contact Alessandra Furlong at email@example.com
“The Night In White is a special, magical time where we can reflect a whole year’s worth of progress,” said Spanakos. “ It is embedded in a very deep, emotional tradition and touches everybody, especially all those families that have been with us since the start.”