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Mother raises awareness, spreads holiday cheer

Exceptional children enjoyed a holiday surprise thanks to a Suffolk organization dedicated to helping children with autism and their families.

Claudette Pierre, special education teacher at John Yeates Middle School, and her special needs students were visited on Tuesday by Bless My Babies President Priscilla Sullivan and her son Philip, 26. The students were giddy as the Sullivans handed them gift-wrapped presents.

“Best Christmas ever,” shouted seventh-grader Shayla Boynes, 13.

Shayla quickly unwrapped her puzzles, coloring books and a stylish messenger bag with a set of markers.

“They’re such beautiful colors,” she said holding the markers.

Eighth-grader Malik Hall, 14, and other boys got new toy cars.

“I’m going to open the Camaro, then the Chevy,” Malik said.

Sullivan founded Bless My Babies three years ago to share her experience raising Philip, who has autism. She also hopes to raise awareness and assist families with children with autism through education and other services through the program.

“We want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels very comfortable among each other,” she said. “The more awareness we share, the better off we feel the community will be.”

Tina Kearney, a Suffolk Public Schools substitute teacher and Bless My Babies volunteer, suggested to Sullivan that she do something for the students in Pierre’s class.

Philip was a student at John Yeates Middle School about 13 years ago, and Kearney knew Pierre’s students through substitute teaching.

“They’re just great kids,” Kearney said.

Pierre said her students were grateful for the surprise, and seventh-grader Diamond Sykes, 13, was one of her students to quickly thank the Sullivans for their generosity.

“I’m grateful that people thought of me,” Diamond said.