Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

There is a purpose for my reaching out to you but first I would like to thank you for your efforts in creating a way for people to connect. I will admit that when I first heard about Facebook I was not sure if it would be something for me. I slowly joined the ranks of Facebook users and over time began to make connections with friends and family, many of whom I had lost contact with over the years. It was so great to catch up, to see pictures, to laugh with some and cry with others. It was Facebook that allowed my son with Autism to connect with the world. Due to his difficulty with social interactions, Facebook gave him a voice and for the first time, friends, many of whom he has met and connected with here in our city of Richmond, VA. It was Facebook that alerted me to a dear friends illness and because of my knowledge in the medical field allowed me to reach out, move him to a better hospital and buy an extra nine months of life for him to get things in order and say good-bye. It was Facebook that allowed me to share and grow the non-profit, Richmond Autism Integration Network (RAIN), that I founded in 2012, to provide middle and high school students a summer camp and social skills program designed just for them. It is Facebook that allows me to stay connected with my biological Dad and Mom (I was adopted at 3 months of age in 1964) and the brothers and sisters I never knew I had. There are so many great things about Facebook and I thank you for making it possible.

I recently read an article on CNN Tech which quoted a post you wrote on Facebook,"For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better." It is this heartfelt comment by you that I wish to respond to and therefore is the purpose of this letter.

Facebook has changed over the years and although I know the goal was/is to "boost the well-being" of the people that use it by encouraging them to communicate and connect I am afraid that the damage has already been done, but it is NOT your fault nor should you apologize. It is the condition of the human heart I am afraid, that has caused the challenges Facebook now faces. It was not Facebook that wrote and reported false news, it was the writer of that news that used Facebook as the medium to spread it, it is not Facebook that bullies it's users, it is Facebook users that do the bullying. Facebook is not the only source abused, YouTube and other social media are used to degrade and demoralize others daily. I am not sure if the human heart was in such a sad state when Facebook first came to fruition but I will tell you that I see it regularly outside of social media. People do not seem to care about each other any more. There is a growing boldness in public where people display anger, contempt and hatred as I have never encountered and quite honestly never thought I would. It has become a "me" society where Good Samaritans are few and far. The media is inundated with violence and the reports are rarely uplifting, I would assume because those stories don't bring in an audience. How sad that we have abandoned "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." to become a nation that blames everyone else for every issue but rarely takes a good look at ourselves.

It has become the norm for people of all ages, races, religions and nationalities. We are becoming  more desensitized and insensitive proving over and over again that we will abuse whatever social media available, to say whatever we feel, because we can. Fake news, rumors, bullying via social media is not the fault of the platform, it is the responsibility of the writer/user.

I am sure if anyone reads this letter there are some who will call me names. They will say I am an idiot or that I am uneducated or possibly that I am some conservative bleeding heart that lives under a rock and should stay there. To be quite honest with you there have been posts that I have read that have caused me to become angry and judgmental too.I am not immune to the horrific stories and the words that I see and read, however my heart and soul are sensitive enough to know that what I am taking in on Facebook and YouTube or any other social media is not exactly healthy for me. I learned long ago that the pen/tongue is mightier than the sword and it is proven daily through the media as well as in our communities.

Therefore Mr. Zuckerberg, please know that it is not your fault, it is the condition of the human heart and the only one I know who can change a heart is God.

Warmest Regards,
Robin M Davis

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017-A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

I am not going to sugarcoat it, 2017 made Alexander's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day look like a cakewalk, plus my very bad day was 363 days long! 2017 is the year that I would like to forget. I don't even want a re-do. No amount of money or promises of fame would make me change my mind, no sir, not even a little bit. I was planning to ring in 2017 with my new hubby and much hope for the future. I was sure that everything I longed for was just on the other side of midnight. I was so ready for the positive changes I just knew were coming.

I won't go into the dispiriting details of everything that happened as it would take another full year and I have every intention of leaving 2017 far behind in 27 hours and counting. What I will divulge are just a few instances from this year that will gladly be tossed into the sea of forgetfulness.

I have longed for stability for most of my life and thought I had finally found it in the summer of 2016. Life was good. However, the stability I thought I had found began and ended so quickly that I am not even sure that it actually happened. I suppose I thought I could find stability in another person and I kinda "put all my eggs in one basket" as the saying goes, with a rekindled past relationship. I just knew that this was going to be the best year with my new, blended family. I was so excited about the possibilities. That abruptly changed New Year's Eve day 2016. It came out of the blue with no warning and there was no fixing it or going back. I didn't even make it into 2017.  I should have known better. If it is to good to be true, then go with that, because it is. Relationships have always been a challenge for me. Possibly due to my extreme independence, the fact that I rearrange the house constantly (especially when stressed) or simply because the only cooking I do involves a can opener, microwave and a bowl. All I can tell you is that when it comes to relationships I have not had much success. So, after what seemed like a lifetime of being a single mom I thought I would give it another try.  He had been a single Dad for many years as well. I think we were both thinking Brady Bunch. Even the Brady Bunch lasted longer.  Unfortunately it was a painful lesson learned in patience (or the lack of) and how to quietly change your relationship status on Facebook without the "world" noticing and asking why. Needless to say, I failed in both.

In 2012 I founded a nonprofit for middle/high school students on the Autism Spectrum. The nonprofit, Richmond Autism Integration Network, was created while sitting in Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel traffic in 2011. If you are familiar with this experience then you will know that traffic through this tunnel can last for quite some time, in this instance 3 hours and 17 minutes. From RAIN's inception until my resignation in June 2017 this charity had been my baby.  I had the privilege of not only watching it grow from 8 kids the first summer to 300 by my last summer, I also had the opportunity to meet some awe inspiring families and work with some really talented and amazing co-workers. All sounds great right? Sometime during 2016 I started to become weary. RAIN was my heart but as we grew we were still lacking in some really important areas. Trying to wear so many hats was becoming strenuous and I was just beat. RAIN consisted of very long days, almost 24/7 with little help or pay. I was tired, burned out, frustrated, financially strapped and needing a change. I became careless with business decisions, not intentionally but careless none the less. I knew that it was time to move on but I did not want to give up. I would say that a little bit of pride, no actually a lot, got in the way. I felt like if I told the others that I could not continue with RAIN any longer then I was letting them down and that I had failed. Even though we had grown every year, it still was not enough for me to feel successful. The mistakes I made became visible to all of us in the spring of 2017. I was beyond embarrassed and quickly became very defensive. I became angry with everyone, my co-workers, my family and especially myself. I was hurt and I hurt those closest to me with harsh words and quick judgement knowing deep down that it was my own mistakes, personal hurts and pride that were getting in the way. I have never felt so sorry or felt more alone than I did then. If there was anything I could have changed in 2017 it would be the way I handled this. Sometimes I wish I could just whiteout and start again....

In many ways I would say that 2017 was a year of much loss. Relationships dissolved, RAIN moved on without me and I lost my beloved Sarge, my big, 160 lb black & tan coon hound mixed with only God knows what. I adored this boy and I miss him like crazy. There will never be another Sarge. I also lost my friend Brad to cancer. I can not even begin to describe how I felt when I got the call. We had been friends since we were teenagers. He was truly one of a kind. He was funny and so smart. He read people like a book. His wisdom was way beyond his years. I still find myself looking for his texts.

And to top it all off, I got Shingles! Ugh! Worst. Pain. EVER. I kid you not, I wanted to jump off a bridge. Giving birth to a 12 lb baby was way less painful (but that is a story for another day!).

These were just a few of the events that occurred in the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days of 2017. I am sure as you have read this post you have said to yourself surely there was something good in 2017? Even one thing? Well, my oldest son married his bride in April which means I gained a daughter, which is very cool! I got to see my all time favorite band, the Backstreet Boys, play in Charlotte, NC, plus my daughter and I got to see her favorite band, Why Don't We perform, as well as meet them! (We did not want to come back to Richmond, seriously, we wanted to become groupies and just follow the bands. Why Don't We, keep your eyes and ears on those guys!) Other than that, nope, not that I can recall...

As New Year's Eve day approaches (in 3 hours and 52 minutes) I will be casting each hurt into the past. I will be letting go of this dull, continuous ache. I feel as though everything that I needed to be expunged from my life has been exposed and now I can let it go. The insecurities, the inability to say "no", the need to please everyone and take care of everyone, the feeling of never being good enough, all end this year, today. I choose to move into 2018 with a clean slate. I choose to take my time with big decisions, approaching them with fervent prayer, I choose to use my creative talents in an area that serves others wherever that may be (as long as I don't have to be the boss!), I choose to love others and to be there beside them, NOT fixing everything for them, I choose to forgive others and to forgive myself, I choose to take the time I need for me which means stopping to read a book or take a road trip or just do nothing, I choose to spend more time with the Lord and in His Word because I realize that He is the one stable thing in my life. But most of all, I choose to forget the hurt and the pain and more importantly, I choose to remember what it taught me.

Here is wishing you a wonderfully blessed New Year. I am expecting mine to be awesome!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Light At the End of the Tunnel

Ever since my son's diagnosis of Autism in 2004, my life, and lives of my family, have been like a never ending roller coaster ride, and I have never really liked roller coasters. Going from doctor to doctor, therapist to therapist has been frustrating, time consuming and confusing at best. Everyone has a different take on the best therapies, the right diet, the reason for meltdowns, and the best way to parent a child on the autism spectrum.

I was introduced to autism through a letter from a developmental pediatrician that arrived on a Friday. Knowing nothing about an ASD, I perused the internet until my eyes could no longer focus and my brain was overwhelmed from information overload. My son was unsuccessful in school from the start. Even though everyone was well aware of his diagnosis he brought home, almost daily, note after note about what he did wrong each day. It was very clear that his teachers did not understand him and for the most part were at a loss as to what to do. Each year became more difficult for him and the once smiling and happy child that had such a desire to learn began to fade off into a distant memory and a dark, angry, defeated child began to emerge.

As a single mom and primary bread winner in our family it became increasingly difficult each year to be able to function as both full time employee and full time mom to my son and his non-autistic younger sister. Constantly being called away from my work to go to his school and "rescue" the teachers from his meltdowns became daily routine. Although I tried very hard to partner with his school it became increasingly difficult and his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) began incorporating less time in school and more time with mom.

I fought, from the very beginning of his diagnosis, to get therapy that insurance did not cover, to get financial assistance to help cover therapies, which I was not eligible for either because he was "to high functioning" or I made to much money. I made barely enough to cover our monthly expenses but it was still to much to get help. According to the Department of Social Services he did not qualify for the DD waiver or the EDCD waiver because he was to "high functioning". They refused to even come out to do the evaluation. By the fifth grade his school anxiety was through the roof. His psychiatrist doubled his Concerta (used for anxiety). My son became suicidal within 24 hours. It was one of the most devastating events up until that point. This was a very dark tunnel. I called his doctor who said take him to the psychiatric unit for pediatrics at the hospital near our home. I did so and was told upon arrival that they did not know what "I wanted them to do about it". He and I both paced the floor for two hours waiting, waiting and waiting some more. No one ever came. I drove my son around in my car all night. The rhythm of the driving was the only thing that seemed to calm him. Our mental health system failed us.

By the time Fifth grade rolled I was at the top of this giant roller coaster holding on, white knuckled, for dear life as my family started descending into the unknown. We were all terrified.

It was nearing the end of his Fifth grade year. It was a Friday in May. The end of the school year was a few weeks away. He had just returned to school after a week of absence due to Strep throat. He had frozen a can of Coke the night before to take to school, hoping that is would be like a slushy by lunch time. I happened to be in the principals office talking with her about my concerns for the transition to middle school. We were interrupted by his teacher, unaware that I was standing there, who came storming into the office stating very strongly "Well, Matthew Davis is back and he is already causing problems." The principal looked mortified. As the teacher realized I was standing there she said to me "You need to come talk to your son, he has something leaking from his backpack and he is refusing to clean it up!", she then stormed out. Long story short, as the principal and I entered the hallway we found my son sobbing on his hands and knees cleaning up the Coke that had leaked form his backpack. Four teachers were in the hallway, three were throwing paper towels at him while the other kicked a trash can at him and told him to make sure he got every paper towel in the trash. When the principal intervened she was told by the Senior Special Education teacher that "he was quite capable of handling it on his own." She then turned on her heel and walked away. I took my son out of the public school system right then. The Special Education teacher told me that I would "fail" home schooling him and that we would be back. I resigned from my state job on Monday. I know, quitting a job with benefits sounds ridiculous but the alternative was to lose my son to a broken down system and I will never be willing to do that, ever. We hit the bottom of the roller coaster ride.

Now it was time to climb back up. I had already started working on Richmond Autism Integration Network and Camp Free2BMe in 2011 and by the time I took my son out of the public school in 2012, I decided it was time to launch summer camp. The first summer was extremely successful. I will never forget climbing on the bus the first day and looking at all the kids gearing up for a day at Maymont Park. I was happy and terrified at the same time. "What am I doing", I thought to myself, "I am making a difference, not only for Matthew but for other kids like him" and the bus rolled out.

It has been almost two years since RAIN began. In that time our summer camp designed specifically for kids with an ASD has served 36 students. RAIN After School and RAIN Academy started on January 6, 2014.  Both programs are gaining new students daily. We have a new partnership with the Henrico County Public Schools, one of many we hope to establish in our community. We are so blessed by the parents and their children. We hug, we laugh, we cry and we stand together to help through the tough times. We celebrate our children's success and we have become like a "family".

Climbing up that roller coaster again has been difficult to say the least. Every bump of the ride has been felt. Our first attorney never did the 501 C 3 paperwork slowing us down by a year. I ended up doing it. What a pain that was! Then the IRS lost our application. It traveled to three different states before landing in New York. It was approved right away only to be slowed down again by the government shutdown for another 6 weeks. My personal savings ran out in August 2014. Funding the majority of RAIN has been difficult but so worth it.  Ultimately though, the lack of a steady paycheck has lead to the need for us to move from our home for the last five years, by the end of this month. The building we rented for RAIN had another tenant who would not move out until the end of November. Due to this we were unable to open in September but were still required to pay the $3300 a month in rent. Personally, I had to apply for Medicaid, as we had no health insurance nor could I afford it. Yes folks, to many, people on Medicaid are losers. Let me just say that this was a difficult thing for me to do but it was necessary.  Over the last two years our family has been challenged by my Fathers illness, the premature birth of my beautiful granddaughter, the loss of a beloved pet, relationships that have dissolved and just those day to day things that happen regardless of how hard you try. This upward climb has been stressful in so many ways, but once again, so worth it. I know, it all sounds crazy.

If nothing else my faith in God has become stronger than ever before. I know that this journey started with faith the size of a mustard seed but it continues to grow daily. Just when I think that things are falling apart God sends in someone to make it better. Faith and prayer carries me daily and on those days when I just cant stand it any longer, I kneel. A new home and a new part to this journey are right around the bend!

When RAIN began my son was an angry kid. He was hurt and had no sense of value. He refused to learn, refused to use his God given gifts and shut down to the world. But that was then and this is now. Over the last two years my son has grown! He looks forward to school, he is making friends, he is becoming inquisitive and starting to use his talents again. He smiles, he laughs, he greets people, he shows concern and he is becoming the young man I always knew in my heart, existed. It is not just my son that I see this. The kids that we have the honor to work with are coming in happier, they are growing, becoming comfortable in who they are and feeling accepted. We are seeing the light at the end of this tunnel.

People who come to RAIN ask what it is that they feel when they walk into our building. "It feels different" they say.  We discovered how important it is to allow all of our students to be free to be themselves. The way we do this? I  guess one could say that  we discovered the "secret" to working with these special kids and we try very hard to share it with everyone we meet. If everyone did it the world would be a much better place. I only wish we could post our "secret" on the walls of every school. The secret is... LOVE

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4

This time, as I descend down this roller coaster ride in life, I will not be covering my eyes, I will not be looking at how far I need to go. Instead, I will be looking at how far I have come and as I round the bend, eyes wide open,  I will keep my eyes on the light and I will continue to share the love.


Monday, September 3, 2012

A Lesson from Tadpoles

We have this little pond in our back yard with a small waterfall and several full grown (five I believe) frogs. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is grab my cup of coffee and my faithful cat Max (that's right, I said cat) and walk my yard. I usually follow the same path every morning. I have taken up gardening in the last three years and I love to see all the plants that I have planted grow and bloom. Who knew that the daughter of a self proclaimed plant killer actually had a green thumb! (Side note, my mother's nickname at the local florist was "Croaker" and it had nothing to do with frogs.) Anyway, the morning walk ends at the pond to check in on the frogs and the other natural inhabitants that live in and around it. My favorite thing to do though, is to watch the tadpoles. At the end of the summer in 2011, I happened upon a great deal at the local Big Lots. A huge round above ground swimming pool reduced from $300 to $60. "What a steal" I thought and I bought it. The kids will love this, it will encourage exercise, etc. I obviously did not think this through very well. It never occurred to me the amount of time and effort it would take to maintain this monstracity and it took away from the aesthetically pleasing look of the yard that I had been cultivating for the last few years. It did not take long before overly excited kids, both mine and ALL the kids in the neighborhood (never knew we had so many)caused a tear in the bottom. Although my son was extremely upset about this I was somewhat relieved. Between the chemicals and the algae,that was insistant upon NEVER going away no matter what I did, I was glad to have a reason to shut it down. Sure, I could patch it, and yes, I was glad the kids had a fun place to hang with their friends. I would much rather them be here with me than roaming the neighborhood and even I enjoyed a dip or two, but going to the neighborhood pool looked way better now that we had tried owning our own pool and it was actually cheaper! Let the draining begin! It seemed like it took forever for that thing to drain. Really it was only about a day but when I want something done I just want it done and I not the most patient person. Virginia weather has been a little crazy this summer and quite uncooperative when it came to taking down that pool. Even though we had "drought" conditions it seemed like every evening there was a shower. With a couple of inches of water in the bottom of the slightly unlevel pool I was in a bit of a quandry as to how to get the last bit of water out. It was to heavy to lift and to shallow to drain as the drain was higher on the side of the pool. So the water just sat and sat....and sat. Okay, a week has passed, summer is busy and the pool has been cast to the side for the moment, until one evening around 9 pm when it sounded as though all of the frogs in the neighborhood decided to have a pool party in my pool and I was not invited. The "singing" was really loud. Loud enough to coax me out into the yard to see what was going on. The security light over the pool came on as I circled it and peeked over the side. One, two, three, four...Nine...I counted nine little frogs swimming, floating and clinging to the side of the pool. They were so small and cute. I watched them for awhile and then called it a night. The pool sat for a little while longer. On a particularly hot evening, just before yet another rain storm, I noticed my daughter and her friend climbing into the pool with cups, scooping up water, and then climbing out and running to the pond. What are they doing? Helping mom drain the pool? How sweet. Actually, as I got closer to the pool I realized that they were not draining the pool for me. It seems that the frog party resulted in hundreds, no, thousands (or so it seemed) of tadpoles. The girls were concerned for their safety and were attempting to rescue them. After about thirty minutes of this they were exhausted and the rain had started. We all abandoned our outdoor projects and ran into the house. "Mom" my daughter asked,"What are you going to do with the tadpoles? You can't kill them mom! Please don't kill them!" First of all I had not really even considered the tadpoles as I knew not of their existence until now and second of all, I could not kill one intentionally much less all of those swimming innocently in the bottom of our pool. "I don't know Lou" (that's her nickname) "let me think about it." The next day I went out, bucket and cup in hand, to start scooping tadpoles. The water was gross and green, the tadpoles, uncooperative and the sun, hot as ...well you know. This is never going to work, I will be here forever trying to "rescue" these tadpoles. Hmmmm....I needed something bigger. Turns out the pool net that we use to clean out the debris was perfect! I could scoop a large amount of tadpoles, run across the yard and drop them into the pond before they suffocated! Back and forth I went scooping these tadpoles. My next door neighbor just watched and chuckled. "Whatcha doing Robin?" he asked. "Rescuing tadpoles" I answered, breathless from my umteenth trip to the pond. "Good for you!" he replied, "I would have just drained 'em" and he walked into his house chuckling to himself the whole time. I believe I even heard him mutter "crazy neighbor" but I could be mistaken. As I ran back and forth scooping I found myself talking to these tadpoles. "Come on guys, cooperate. Don't you know I am trying to save you!" Some would swim away as soon as my feet hit the bottom of the pool. Others swam right into the net. I worked and worked trying to catch every one. Over the course of three days (yes I know, I must be a little crazy) I scooped. What was even more interesting though were my thoughts and feelings as I scooped. I thought about how every tadpole life in that pool was important to me. I thought about how I did not want to leave any tadpoles behind. I was frustrated with the ones that would hide or get so close and then disappear into a dark crease, in the side of the bottom of the pool floor. The little ones, newly hatched, were easier to scoop up. They were niave I guess. The larger ones, some even starting to grow legs, were harder to catch, determined to do things their own way, hiding in algae or trying to "outrun" my net by swimming to the other side. "Don't you get it" I muttered outloud, "I am tring to give you life!" As I released each net into the pond I felt good. The tadpoles immediately swam out into their new surroundings and began grazing on the algae, probably thinking to themselves "so this is heaven!" Well, I thought it would be like heaven to a future frog anyway. I must admit though that there were those that just refused to be saved. They hid and swam away. Each hot day passed and the water slowly evaporated until finally there was no more water to swim in and they just died. It made me sad to see those little tadpoles struggling for a last breathe or dried up on the pool floor. "I told you not to swim away. Why did you have to be so stubborn!" I muttered to myself as I sadly counted the ones left behind. I did everything I could, but I could not save them all. Every morning as I stop by the pond and check to see how my little tadpoles, that are not so little anymore, are doing, I reflect on that simple experience and I think how God must feel as he reaches out to us all through his son Jesus. How frustrated he must feel when he puts people and circumstances in our path to lead us to him and we still run away and hide. I think about how heartbroken he must be as some try to "outrun" him and as a last breathe is taken a soul is lost because it was niavely thought that the world offered an easier and better way. Jesus said that he would make us "fishers of men". I realized that if I put at least half of the energy I used rescuing tadpoles into witnessing to family, friends, co-workers and even total strangers, then I will have done what he has asked me to do and that this is good. Possibly I too can help to cast the net that leads another to salvation. Life's lessons can come from the simplest things, like frogs and pools and tadpoles.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Camp Free2BMe

Almost two years ago I had a dream. The dream was to find a place where my son with Autism would fit in and be just what he was, a child. A place where he could be free to be just himself. Not the autistic kid or the quirky kid or the difficult, angry, depressed kid, just Matthew, the funny, artistic, smart, sensitive kid who just wanted a real friend. The kind of place that he would remember fondly as the place where he could use his imagination and create art the way he saw it, a place where he could attempt to climb the biggest tree or catch his first fish with a pole or learn how to overcome his biggest fears, the fear of never belonging, the fear of rejection, the fear of not knowing the right thing to say or how to express his feelings. A place that most of have known and experienced, a place that we can go back to anytime we want to and remember some of the good things about our childhood. A place like, summercamp. I searched the internet for days and much to my dismay could find nothing designed specifically for children with a primary diagnosis of Autism, Asperger's Syndrome or related developmental disability in Richmond or even the state of Virginia. It was during one of these very frustrating moments that the inner voice that we all hear at one point in time or another said "go ahead, you get something started". My first reaction was to chuckle and then of course the arguement ensued. Sure, I thought, great idea, I have no clue on how to start a summer camp. I know nothing about non-profits, I am a single mom with two children under the age of 12 and I need a full time job with benefits! However, by the next day I was reading everything I could about how to start a non-proft, summer camps and activities for children with Autism. Call it insanity or a leap in faith (I personally choose the latter!)but in August 2011, Richmond Autism Integration Network(RAIN)was "born" and on June 29, 2012 (not quite a year later) I officially resigned from my full time State of Virgina job with benefits to open Camp Free2BMe. The vision of a summer day camp experience gradually became more clear as creative, passionate board members joined the team. What makes Camp Free2BMe unique is the design. We wanted non-autistic children who know very little, if anything, about autism to learn about their peers. We decided to pair two non-autistic children with one child with autism. We train them in Autism 101. We then go out into the community to do fun things as a group. The non-autistic children learn about their peers and will take this positive experience back to their schools in the fall. All of our non-autistic youth are volunteers from the local middle and high schools. They will receive school credit for their time but they will also recieve a priceless education about Autism. Our Autistic youth will be given the opportunity to be who they are and to learn social skills from their peers. Everyone is so excited about camp! Our biggest need right now is the same as anyone else's, funding. We need a bus. That is our biggest expense and our biggest challenge. Many in the community have offered discount rates for activities. We have Laser Quest, bowling, Putt-Putt, therapeutic horseback riding,a vertical tree climb and canoeing at Pocahontas State Park on our to do list! As a woman of extreme faith, I know that this is going to be an amazing summer for our campers, their peer buddies and all of the families that are involved. I figure if God can part the Red Sea then he can cetainly provide us with a bus! As I begin this new journey of faith (and lots of chocolate!) I will keep you posted with pictures and camp experiences. Feel free to check out our web site: www.RichmondAutism.Org and give a shout out to us anytime. We also are happy to accept donations. All donations are needed and appreciated! Whether it is a gift of time , talent or monetary, we will never turn your giving away, just as we never turn away a child that needs our camp. Regardless of finances, we always work with our families!
I can't wait for Camp!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leap of Faith

When do you know that it is time to make a change? I'm not talking about swapping out a toothbrush, buying country instead of classical or dying your hair red. I'm talking about a significant change, one that will affect the way you do life, the way you make decisions and ultimately, your retirement. How long do you wipe your child's tears as they once again cry in pain inflicted by unkind looks and words that are daily thrust upon them in the classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. When do you take a stand and say "No More!" For me, like most single moms in America, wearing multiple hats is not unusual. There is the mom hat, the sister hat, the daughter hat, the employee hat, the advocate hat, well, you get the picture. Working as a full time employee for the State of Virginia and being a full time mom to an eight year old daughter (trying very hard to be 18) and to an eleven year old creative and quirky son who just happens to have Autism, is enough to keep me busy way more than the meager 24 hours alotted in one day. Trying to maintain structure and balance by someone like me who is so ADHD that it's just ridiculous, is virtually impossible. Add to the regular day to day challenges of life the battle you must wage constantly to protect and/or advocate for your child, I am surprised that there are not more runaway parents. Wearing all these hats also includes my favorite (not) the hat of provider, better known as the one who buys the groceries, pays the light bill, the mortgage, the car payment, insurance, extra curricular activities, school fees, water bill, trash pick up, vet bill, co-pays and parking tickets (stupid 10 minute parking at a downtown bank, seriously!) Sometimes I find that hats become old and frayed. Sometimes hats can be repaired and sometimes they just need to be discarded. The problem is which one do you discard? After eight years of advocating, wiping tears, searching for the right "fit" in a school, I finally realized that my family and I could not do life like this any longer. We are all tired of doctor's, psychologist's, psychiatrist's, therapist's, teacher's and every other well meaning bystander in the line at Target who has witnessed yet another meltdown, offering their words of wisdom and making matters worse. We are tired of medications that cause headaches and grouchiness, we are tired of teachers giving up and peers calling out names like stupid and loser as we pass them on our nightly neighborhood walk. My son does not have the skills YET to be able to successfully deal with the negative blows he is dealt daily. He certainly is not going to gain any social skills in the public school system. If anything he is getting an excellent education in how to lose your self esteem in just one day. As the wearer of multiple hats it occurred to me that the one I would least expect to "discard" is actually the one that really needed to go. Maybe not go, but definately change! In February 2011 I thought I would get an early start searching for a summer camp for my son to attend. Much to my dismay I did not find anything in my town. I mean nothing. Yes, there are camps but they are all for either "neuro-typical" children or children with many different types of special needs. There was nothing specifically for children with a primary diagnosis of Autism, Asperger's or other related developmental delays. I started searching some of the caregiver sites looking for a nanny or someone who had experience with Autism. I typed in the word "Autism" and hit search. Wow! There was message after message from desperate parents seeking a "friend or anyone to spend time with" their child. "We will pay top dollar for a friend to take our son to the movies or just hang out." I was heartbroken. It was then that I asked God for a way to be able to help not only my son but others going through the same thing. It was then that it was placed on my heart to start a summer camp for children with Autism to be just what they were meant to be, children. In August 2011 after thinking, talking, researching, seeking and thinking some more, Richmond Autism Integration Network (R.A.I.N.) was born and the journey began. Over the last year I have talked with and written to countless parents all sharing the common bond of a child with Autism. Everyday a new idea, new comment, new insight and new friend came to be. I have been so excited to be on this journey and I have learned so much from my son. I started looking at him for who he is not who I wished he would be. I have watched him grow with me, both of us learning about each other, both of us striving to be the best person we can be. School has been a disaster. I think his teachers gave up on him before Christmas. As his mom, I will never give up on him. I will do whatever it takes. With this said, I made the bold move on Friday to withdraw him from school. When I observed several teachers standing over him in the hallway, throwing paper towels at him and kicking a trash can at him as he was on his hands and knees sobbing, trying to clean up the Coke he had spilled and NO ONE helped him. That was it. That's what it took and I am ashamed of myself, in a way, that I did not know it was that bad at school. He tried to tell me but he could not find the words. So, not only have I been wearing the employee, advocate, started a non-profit hat, but I also felt the need to add one more, the home school educator hat. I don't know if I would call it a "leap of faith" or pure insanity, but on Monday I resigned from my full time, salaried, state job, with benefits. I guess deep down I have known that it was time to make a change, I was just a little afraid (oh ye of little faith!)The way of life that I have always known changed in an instant. The look on my son's face Friday said it all. So, the plan is to continue to grow R.A.I.N. and to home school. I was blessed recently with a part time on call position for a local home health agency and actually have been approached by two parents in the last two days who have asked if I will home school their sons too. I don't know what God has in store but when I asked him last February to make a way for me to be a stay at home mom by June 2012, he did exactly that and then some. Doors are opening and my son is smiling again. I will miss the veterans I work with tremendously but I know I did the right thing. So, I did not discard the provider hat I just changed it a little. This is definately a new path and this chapter of my life will close fully on June 29th. I can't wait to turn the page and start "doing" life in a whole new way!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Reflections of My Father

I have never imagined my life without my Father in it, ever. I guess like many people I just took it for granted that he would always be right there for me, no matter what. As I sat in the hospital waiting room today with a slowly ticking clock and fast paced people, I found myself reflecting on my childhood with the first man that I have ever loved, my Dad. I was adopted as infant in 1964. Back then adoption agencies tried very hard to match adoptive parents with children that shared similar characteristics. When the Childrens Home Society matched me with my Dad they could not have made a better match. We both had thick wavy brown hair and the same nose. We are both quite opinionated, always enjoying a good debate at the family meal. We both love animals, love to read, love to learn, love the Lord and love our family. Unlike me, however, he doesn't like to show his feelings, but you can always look into his blue eyes and know exactly how he feels. I remember the long conversations we had when I was just a little girl of maybe five or six. I used to sit on the commode lid in the bathroom and watch my Dad as he shaved. I am sure we discussed deep things like all fathers and daughters do. Caterpillars, butterflies, puppy dogs and daydreams, we covered it all. As I grew older he participated in just about everything I did. I remember looking out into the audience when we had our school play and there he would be with my mom, looking as proud as a Dad could. Father-Daughter dances at school, trips to the beach, sitting with him in the recording booth at church on Sunday where he recorded the service for those who could not attend, reading together, working in the yard together, my first real date...Ahhh yes, that first real date. I will never forget the sadness in his eyes. I think he was realizing that his little girl was growing up. That was hard for him and me. I have always been a Daddy's girl and quite proud of it. I have always been so proud of my Dad. He taught me many things. Most importantly he introduced me to and taught me to love the Lord. He instilled in me his morals and values which have indeed served me well. As I reflected I became very aware of time and just how short it truly is. I was remembering us, my Dad and me, as if it were just yesterday. He is still the most handsome man I have ever known. His hair is still thick and a beautiful silver gray. His wit is just as sharp and he still knows how to make me smile just like he did when I was a tiny girl. He has always been my biggest fan, encouraging me, offering words of wisdom and giving big hugs that only he can give when I needed them the most. I wondered what he thought about today as he headed for surgery this morning. I wondered if he knew that I was praying for him, asking God to guide the hands of the surgeons and to perform a miracle on his ailing heart. My Dad made it through the surgery but still has a long way to go. I did not want to leave him in the Cardiac ICU alone but the nurses made me go home. Right now I am grieving for all the time I have missed as an adult with my Dad. I just took it for granted that he would always be here and suddenly, today, I was rudely awakened by the fact that he is human. My Dad, my hero, is human. I wish I had played tennis with him back when I was younger and he wanted to so much, but I was to busy. I wish that I had stopped by the house more just to say hello. I have realized today that things have to change in my life and in this world. We move to fast. We want bigger and better. We need to make more, buy more, go more..Not this girl. Nope. I quit. I want to live comfortably, trusting God and enjoying my family. Time is to short. I want to be with my kids, my Dad, the ones that I love. No more rat race, no more overtime, no more rushing... Please God, just a little more time...