Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Creating a Collaborative Autism Community - Our 1st Autism Awareness & Acceptance Panel

My husband John Krejcha and I hosted Autism Empowerment's 1st Autism Awareness and Acceptance Panel this evening at the Cascade Park Library in Vancouver, WA. 
We were excited about the event all day. John had the physical layout of the event in his head and being that he's a visual kind of guy, I knew he'd set it up so it would work out great.  The library let us into the Community Room early so we had plenty of time to set up. For me, that was a real blessing because I was very nervous and wanted to do a good job. Just in case I forgot something important (like my name), I wrote everything I wanted to say out on paper, hoping I wouldn't have to use it.  Yes, my name was there too.  I even joked about it to the audience but I really did have it written down in my notes. You know.... just in case!
It's funny because when I was younger, I used to act in plays and musicals and being up on stage was incredible fun.  I also used to bowl in front of a lot of people when I toured professionally on the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour.  I rarely had stage fright nor did I care that there was an audience in front of me or behind me.  
Interestingly enough, I would have stage fright for many years AFTER the production was over in the form of dreams where I was somehow performing again and either didn't have my lines memorized or forgot something important... like my clothes.  To this day, I still have dreams that I am going to bowl in a big tournament and I forget my equipment.  It certainly keeps my dream life interesting.
But I digress...  
Being that it is currently Spring Break in Vancouver, we weren't sure how many people we would have attending but we were very pleased with the turnout.  We really look forward to hosting more events like this in the future.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful panelists who volunteered their time to come speak. We hope that you also found the time valuable and that we can work together again in the future:
Brandi Dyment and Rainie Berry - Special Education PTsA of SW Washington
Audra Jensen and Heather Schwartz - Autism Behavioral Consulting (ABC)
Darla Helt - Parent Coalition Coordinator Arc of Clark County
Thank you also to Brian who helped us with set up, registration, photography and take-down!  
For those in attendance, if you have any questions that you didn't get a chance to ask, please let us know and we'll do our best to try and find an answer for you.
Also, if you didn't get the chance to attend and you live or know someone on or related to the autism spectrum in the Greater Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR metro area, we handed out a copy of our 13 page resource guide that includes names, addresses and phone numbers of all kinds of services / programs / recreation providers in the area.
You can also view this or download this from our website and it is in clickable PDF format so you can travel directly to the websites from the PDF.  We will be updating this resource monthly so please be sure to check back for updates in our online Resource Library.
For those not there, I started out by giving some opening remarks with a little background about Autism Empowerment and the agenda for the evening.  Then each panelist had time to speak about her organization, event, or services provided. At that point we opened it up to questions from the floor.
One of the topics that was brought up was the recent cut of the Sensory Camp summer day camp program at Hough School in Vancouver through the Parks & Recreation department that so many families plugged into last year, including our own.  It was the first time Ryan had an opportunity to be in sensory camp and he LOVED it. The staff was incredible and at the end of the summer, everyone who participated, whether they were involved just a couple weeks or the whole summer received a free picture "yearbook" (or would that be summerbook?) of their child's highlights. So cool!  Unfortunately due to recent budget cuts by the City of Vancouver, this program which positively impacted so many who didn't have viable alternative summer camp choices was one of the ones on the chopping block.  We and other parents in the Vancouver community hope it can still be saved and a number of parents will be going to City Council to see what options there are to keep the program running in some shape or form.
Also I wanted to mention that if you're in the Greater Vancouver / Portland metro area and have kiddos from 0 - 21 with special needs, you will not want to miss the Southwest Washington and Special Education Conference and Resource Fair on Saturday, April 28th. Annie has brought together so many different providers of services within the local special needs community in one place at the same time. Events like this with seminars, workshops and exhibitors usually cost a pretty penny (or even a not so good-looking one) but they are hosting this event for FREE.  You have to find time to go and when you do, be sure to stop by the Autism Empowerment booth and say hi!
I must say, it was so nice to be in a room full of individuals from a variety of backgrounds who were respectful, passionate and interested in working together to help create a collaborative, vibrant Vancouver area autism community. 
On the other hand, this is just the beginning for us. There is much work to be done. There are many needs that were brought to our attention tonight privately that were not being serviced adequately or at all.  We want to help be a support resource to the entire ASD community, both individuals on the spectrum and families and including children, teens, adults, men and women, parents, caregivers and educators.  Autism Empowerment may be a young organization but we are one with enthusiasm, passion and a calling to serve.  We look forward to serving our local area and creating programs and services of quality that can be duplicated nationwide. 
I am motivated and inspired by all the amazing people I met tonight.  I hope Autism Empowerment will have the opportunity to serve you again in the future with programs, special events, resources and outreach.  I know that John feels the same way. He is pumped up!

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