One year after Ida: Downingtown nonprofit survives storm to help those with autism

PAAL still has hundreds of thousands of dollars to go before it financially recovers from the damage caused by Ida.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
1 year later: Nonprofit survives Ida to help those with autism
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PAAL still has hundreds of thousands of dollars to go before it financially recovers from the storm.

DOWNINGTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Inside an unassuming building in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, countless lives have been changed.

That's because the building is home to an organization called PAAL, which stands for Preparing Adolescents and Adults for Life. The organization focuses on providing life skills that range from employment, education and emotional health for children and young adults on the autism spectrum.

"We are a very small but mighty program for individuals with autism all across the autism spectrum," said Dr. Gloria Satriale, the executive director of PAAL.

But, not long ago, there was nothing left inside the building that had been so life-changing.

"Think about everything that you see right now and think about not having any of it," said Satriale.

SEE ALSO: Downingtown residents, volunteers pull together after Ida's damage

The destruction happened one year ago when Hurricane Ida brought floodwaters to the Brandywine Creek on September 1, 2021.

PAAL is located near the banks of the creek. When Action News met Dr. Gloria Satriale, the nonprofit she founded was heavily damaged and she was devastated.

"All these kids lost their homes. They lost their ability to learn," she said.

But now PAAL has been rebuilt. There's even somewhat of a rainbow that came after the storm.

"When God closes a door, he opens a window because it became this great beautiful classroom," she said of a former gym space that was flooded.

The new classroom gives PAAL the ability to serve younger children. The nonprofit can now accommodate children starting at age 9. Before the storm, it was age 14. The organization also provides services for young adults like David Eaton.

"David's been at PAAL 4 years," said his father Jonathan Eaton.

When Action News met the Eaton Family in 2021, David feared that the place he's relied on for four years wouldn't reopen. It's a place that's meant a lot to him.

"They truly learned what was actually important to me and how to help my needs so that I could have a happier life," said David Eaton.

"Life-changing, and that's not an exaggeration," said Jonathan Eaton.

Instead of taking a year, it took only six months for PAAL to rebuild. They had the support of the community including Action News viewers who saw our story in 2021.

"The Channel 6 community was just so supportive," said Satriale. "Every piece of office furniture was donated."

Every donation meant a lot because PAAL was left to cover all of its expenses alone. The nonprofit didn't have insurance coverage, like a lot of people and businesses in the area. Many didn't think they needed it.

"There's been no flood in 110 years. Nobody ever thought of it," said Satriale.

PAAL fought to come back from the flood for students like David.

"He's a week or two away from starting his first paying job," said Jonathan Eaton proudly.

"I know whatever task they give me, I got it," said David, anticipating his new job at a pet store.

It's the type of confidence he learned from PAAL, and it's the reason why the organization was determined to survive the storm.

"We're just going to keep going," said Satriale.

PAAL still has hundreds of thousands of dollars to go before it financially recovers from the storm. They're hoping fundraising can help with that. They've already gotten a significant gift: enough money for flood insurance to keep them from ever having to go through the same experience again.