Sunday, August 11, 2013

We Need Your Help!

As I reflect on this last year, I am amazed at how far we have come with RAIN. Starting a non-profit for kids with Autism was at one time a dream that seemed an impossibility. As a single mom of two awesome kids, one on the spectrum, with a full time job that I not only loved but also sustained us, the thought of stepping away from that job and the security it offered us was terrifying. By June of 2012 though, I had no choice. I knew my son was not going to make it in middle school. No way at all. I knew plenty about my son and kids like him but I knew absolutely nothing about how to start a  non-profit.

With Non-Profit for Dummies in one hand and all of my savings in the other (and it was not much I can assure you) I took the leap of faith and launched Richmond Autism Integration Network (R.A.I.N.) and Camp Free2BMe. I must admit I like the acronym but that name is a mouthful when answering the phone! The name came from way to much time sitting in traffic at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. I did not have much in the way of guidance in the beginning and I made a few mistakes. Nothing detrimental but none the less mistakes. An example would be not really shopping attorney's. I found one that I thought was just perfect (the first one I met) until about a year into it and then I found out that he "forgot" to file our 501 c 3 paperwork! I ended up filing it myself after another 6 months of trying to understand it.

Last summer was our first summer for Camp Free2BMe. It was an awesome three weeks and I had the privilege of meeting some amazing kids and their families. They all became a part of my own family. In September we started a support group that would meet on our side of town. This too, was successful and again I learned so much. One of the consistent themes we discussed was the difficulty our children had in school. So many parents shared stories of bullying and isolation that occurred in the school. Some were asked by guidance counselors "off the record" to remove their children from school and home school because they could not guarantee their child's safety and other parents reported unacceptable treatment of their children by the teachers. Yes, that's right, the teachers.

With all of the stories and concerns, slowly the idea began to form of creating a home school "school" for our ASD kids. A place where they could go and learn their way. A place that they could call their own, where they could create and be just who they are. Two weeks ago the R.A.I.N. team, which consists of Catherine, Bryan, Kim and myself, signed a lease agreement and moved into our new building. It was so exciting. As we walked through the place we thought of our camp kids and their families and we envisioned just the right spot for each. Jake can use this space as his science lab and Matthew can create in this kitchen! We envisioned Friday night movies with family and a Saturday Kids Club where parents could drop off their kids one Saturday a month and go have a date with their spouse or shop with a girlfriend worry free. We envisioned an after school social/life skills program for the middle/high school kids that need more help with building relationships. We want it to be a hub for the Autism community to call their own.

As I said in the beginning, I am truly amazed at how far we have come. I think it is important for everyone to know just how important this is to us and how committed we are.

Catherine has been driving from Colonial Beach, VA (an hour and a half one way) almost every day for over a year now. She works a small part time job. Her husband works in Maryland, she only gets to see him two days a week. It is nothing for her to put in 12 to 14 hour days. She has worked as an advocate in the schools and the courts for some of our families. She has amazing dedication and passion for what she does and she loves our kids.

Bryan has worked multiple part time jobs to make ends meet so he can be available for whatever we need him to do. We needed our own bus this year and a driver so Bryan went out, got his CDL and bought the bus at auction. He has really stepped up to the plate and is involved in all aspects of  R.A.I.N. He loves working at Camp Free2BMe and the kids really love him. He got involved last summer after he lost his job. It was supposed to be temporary but he has no plans of going anywhere and is determined to see R.A.I.N. grow and become what we all envision it to be.

Kim moved back to Richmond from South Carolina. She had expressed an interest about a year ago when we were chatting on Facebook. Kim loves to do the administrative stuff, like paperwork (yuck!) and she does a great job! She works hard to keep us organized. She is new to our group but she is also dedicated and hard working.

We have all invested an immeasurable amount of time and money into RAIN. I personally have not only put everything I had financially into RAIN but I also started our thrift store with 90% of the goods from my home. I used to have an Ebay store and it was all up in the attic so I dusted it off and started a store for RAIN.  I bet you did not know that none of us are getting a paycheck from R.A.I.N. That's right, we are currently all volunteers.  We work seven days a week and we are so determined and dedicated to making this happen!

We need some help though. We need your help. We are just four people. We can't do this alone. We have bus insurance ($3800/yr), building insurance ($2500/yr), rent ($2200/month), utilities ($260/month), curriculum to purchase and all the other things we will discover we need once we are moved in.

R.A.I.N. is not just for my son, it's for every family affected by Autism. Please help us make this home school "school" and after school program happen for our kids. We want to expand Camp Free2BMe. We want programs like ours across the country. 

One of our campers told us this past Friday that the reason he liked our camp was because at Camp Free2BMe "people get him." We want this for ALL persons with Autism.

You can donate through Paypal:  Donate@RichmondAutism.Org
or mail a check to:

1121 Gaskins Rd.
Richmond, Va. 23238


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