She's fighting for special-needs kids

South Shore woman raises funds for East Meadow autism center


Pop.Earth, a nonprofit holistic and wellness organization that serves autistic and developmentally disabled adults and children, has set its sights on East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park to establish a state-of-the-art $10 million center.

Debbie Stone, Pop.Earth’s founder, held a fundraiser in Southampton on July 16 for the 20,000-square-foot location planned at Eisenhower. The celebrity barbecue cook-off raised more than $250,000, a sum that Stone said would bring Pop.Earth one step closer to its East Meadow destination.

Pop.Earth was founded in 2012. Although the program does not currently have an office, it offers its services through pop-up shops at yoga centers or studios with large spaces across Long Island.

“We even go to libraries that request our services,” Stone said. “We bring everything required for a session — like massage oils for a massage-therapy session — at little to no cost.”

Stone founded Pop.Earth after her son Dylan was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was 2 years old. His motor skills did not develop normally, and he was irritable and rarely made eye contact, Stone said. For years, she struggled to find treatments that worked best for him, while making sure that he stayed active.

When Stone purchased a swing set and slide for Dylan, she noticed that he only used the slide. He was afraid to sit on the swings, she said.

“Children with autism sometimes fail to develop spatial awareness,” Stone explained. “That means that Dylan didn’t know how close or far away he was from the swing. He was scared to sit on it because he wasn’t aware of where he was in that space.”

After Dylan’s therapist suggested cranial sacral therapy — a gentle hands-on massage that targets the skull, spinal column and sacrum to release tension and relieve pain — at a massage center in Plainview, Stone noticed that Dylan’s spatial awareness improved. After a 30-minute session, Dylan hopped on the swing without fear. Now, 14-year-old Dylan takes part in several Pop.Earth programs, including yoga, massage therapy, and music and art workshops. His younger brother, Brandon, often joins him.

“I read that the gut is the second brain,” Stone said. “People with autism sometimes have difficulty digesting food. So I turned to gluten-free recipes for Dylan, but the only place I could find gluten-free was at Whole Foods 10 years ago.”

With the help of Manhattan-based chef Franklin Becker, whose son Sean is on the autism spectrum, Stone crafted a special nutrition workshop for parents who want to maintain a healthy diet for their children. Using vegetable-based proteins and healthy ingredients, Becker, who appeared on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” in 2013, helped design Pop.Earth’s Eat-Able workshop. Parents are given tips and recipes to help their children eat healthy.

“It’s been fantastic working with Pop.Earth,” Becker said. “My goal is to make a huge difference in kids’ lives through food and show them that food can be fun and healthy at the same time.”

Stone added that thanks to the cook-off in Southampton, and donations from supporters, Pop.Earth would be able to host all of its workshops, including a sensory room for adults with heavy-duty equipment, once the fundraising goal is reached. The center would be open to adults and children who are facing any type of disability — mental, physical or emotional — at little to no cost.

“Thanks to Nicole Zaytsev from Adin Events, the Southampton event was so successful,” Stone said. “To see hundreds of people come out to support autistic and disabled children and adults was incredible.”

In a July 11 letter to Pop.Earth, Brian Nugent, the county’s park, recreation and museum commissioner, said that the county intends to “negotiate an agreement” with Stone. Although the letter is a notice of intent to allow Pop.Earth to proceed with establishing a center at Eisenhower Park, Nugent said that first a contract must be drawn out and approved by the county, a step Stone said is “exciting and positive for the center.”

Until Pop.Earth becomes a reality in Eisenhower Park, Stone said pop-up workshops would continue to be held at locations throughtout Nassau County. “I think the East Meadow community would be a great place to have a holistic center for autistic and disabled people,” she said. “Everyone knows someone who is on the autism spectrum. My goal is to help parents and children lead healthy lives, and to give adults with autism a safe space to express themselves.”

For more information on Pop.Earth, visit