The Barbarsis consider themselves to be a “regular family,” but their efforts on behalf of Spectrum360 and its programs make them extraordinary.
This summer, the family donated over $10,000 to the Independence360 program where their son Jesse is a client, raised entirely through grassroots fundraising from friends, family, co-workers and local businesses.
Joey Barbarisi, Jesse’s father, mother Lori Barbarisi and Joey’s wife Pattie have together formed an amazing co-parenting team that has channeled their desire to raise autism awareness into a powerhouse fundraising trio which has raised thousands for Academy360 and Independence360.
Jesse, now age 24, has grown up in Spectrum360’s programs, entering The Children’s Institute (now Academy360 Lower School) when he was 7 years old.
“We felt blessed to have gotten him into the TCI program,” says Joey, “with everything they offered in the lower school and high school, and then moving on to the adult program – it has meant a lot to our family.”
Asking for money didn’t come easily to the Barbarisis. What they consider most remarkable about their efforts is that they had no prior experience with fundraising beyond school events such as the annual walk, and fell into it unintentionally.
“When Jesse was younger, we turned to family and friends, raising a few hundred a year. And we were really proud of that, because every little bit helps! But after a while, I began to feel bad – I’d think, how do I go to the same people year after year asking for money?” explains Joey.
Throughout Jesse’s life, Joey’s mission has been to familiarize others with autism and people on the spectrum. In April 2013, Joey, Lori and Pattie took an extra step in spreading that message and planned a “Light it Up Blue!” event featuring Joey and his band, Bad Mouth Jimmy, hoping to attract people from outside their circle for an evening of fun, music and awareness.
A highlight of the evening was Jesse himself, an enthusiastic music fan who spent the evening in front of the stage getting into the show and singing along with the band.
“I think people who saw that caught onto the fact that he is my son, and that he is autistic, and it touched them,” Joey said.
To his surprise, at the end of the evening a man came up to him and pressed money into his hand. A bewildered Joey tried to give it back and the man replied, “no, please, this is for your son.”
“I honestly didn’t know what to do with it,” Joey says.
Thinking it over, Joey, Pattie and Lori realized that holding events could be an opportunity to raise money in a way that also gave donors an enjoyable experience. And they decided that the money they raised should go to Spectrum360 and its programs.
“Jesse benefits so much from Independence360 and there is a real need there that – instead of donating to a larger organization where only a fraction of the money filters down to the people who need it – giving locally and giving back made much more sense,” says Joey.
As the event grew in size and popularity, the trio realized that they could reach out to even more donors by petitioning local businesses. In this area, Pattie’s outgoing nature and experience in the automotive industry was a big plus, being accustomed to financial dealings with the public.
“Pattie is our driving force with reaching out to big donors – she is not shy!” laughs Joey and Lori.
Pattie agrees, “I’m not afraid to ask!”
The yearly event became something that many looked forward to, with people frequently asking “Are you going to do the fundraiser again?”
Then came the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions. An event was planned and scheduled for April 2020 that was postponed and eventually canceled. And in 2021, still in pandemic mode, the group realized a live event wouldn’t happen that year either.
“I give a lot of credit to Lori and Pattie for deciding that this year we were going to start up again, even if we didn’t have a live event,” says Joey. “We decided to low-key reach out to people and see what we could raise. Even if only a couple of hundred, that was a hundred more than we would have if we didn’t try.”
After receiving contributions from family and friends, the trio turned to donors and businesses who had contributed in the past.
Through her job with Rt. 23 Nissan in Butler, NJ, Pattie had contacts with many dealerships in the area. A heartfelt personal email she sent to the dealers she knew resulted in an outpouring of support and donations.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Pattie confesses, “because I hadn’t been with Nissan for long. I put out this email and everyone I reached out to came through for me.”
“We’re lucky with the three of us having relationships with a lot of local businesses who can help share our message with people they know would like to make donations,” adds Joey.
Another source of fundraising for the Barbarisis is “swag” that Joey and Pattie create to sell at their events. Bracelets, necklaces and other small items that can be sold to attendees for a few dollars, but those small donations can add up to thousands.
“Before Jesse, if I put myself in their shoes, I don’t think I really knew how to engage with someone who has special needs,” says Joey, “I feel like those small items are raising awareness. For me, that’s as important as the money.” He continues, “My goal as the parent of an autistic child is for people not to have to ask what autism is, to understand it, and that understanding blossoms into acceptance.”
At the heart of all the family’s efforts is the desire to improve life for Jesse and other children and adults on the autism spectrum. Raising money for Independence360 is one way they feel they can help.
“Jesse is in the I360 day program, having fun. He loves it and looks forward to it and when it’s closed he looks forward to going back,” Lori shares. “Over there he’s on his own – of course he has guidance, but it’s not his mother, he can feel like a grownup there.”
That’s important to the Barbarisi family, as they face the challenge that confronts all families with adult children with special needs: the isolation and lack of social contact that comes after aging out of the school system.
“Jesse lives quite a sheltered life,” Joey confides. “He spends most of his time in our homes. He doesn’t have friends who come over or a big social world outside of the three of us. When he goes to I360 – that is his social life, in a sense.”
He continues, “ Even if he’s not the most talkative person with other adults, with this he’s a little more independent. He’s seeing something else in his life, another purpose. It’s not being home or playing a video game. At I360, he’s out with friends, going bowling, going shopping. He lives most of his life alone or with us. Independence360 offers him exposure to others and to the world and that is an important need.”
It’s thanks to families like the Barbarisis, our community partners and the public that Independence360 is able to offer its wide range of services to the adults in their program. Spectrum360 is grateful to the support it receives from all of its donors and volunteers.
The message Joey, Lori and Pattie would like to send to other “regular” families is, “you don’t know what you can do until you try.”
“If we can do it, anyone can. I think in some cases, many families just don’t know what they can do to contribute – and anything is something!” Joey encourages. “It could be a bake sale! Even if it raised just $250 – every little bit helps!”
Lori adds, “Families should check with their employers to see if they offer a company match program. In some cases, employers will match personal donations made to charities. It’s a resource a lot of people don’t know about or take advantage of.”
Joey concludes, “At the end of the day, when the check signing is done, the feeling that I get from knowing that we did something that is going to help a community that is in such need… it feels good.”
Learn more about how you can support Spectrum360 and how we use your contributions.