Prior to the pandemic, most people wouldn’t think twice about going to the grocery store or to dinner with a loved one. But for the parent or sibling of someone with autism, these simple activities can seem nearly impossible. Imagine a child who runs away in public places, who tantrums when overwhelmed in a social setting, or who can’t communicate if they get separated from their caregiver. This is the reality families with an autistic loved one may experience every day. Our family knows this story well.
I met the team at Potential in 2017 and was asked to help with community events as a volunteer. I had been curious about the organization because our son is autistic and nonverbal, so I was happy to lend a hand.
As a volunteer, I have been impressed by their team. “When we were founded nearly 15 years ago,” says Kristine Quinby, the Founder, CEO, and President of Potential, “it was with the goal of helping every child and adult with autism reach their full educational, social, and emotional potential.”
“Normal daily activities are anything but normal for many of the families with whom we work at Potential,” says Kristine. “The good news is that there is a way to make a difference in their lives. Research, and our own experience, shows that skill-based outings can help children and adults with autism adjust to new environments.” Community outings require both staffing and transportation, and a vehicle with adequate space will make these activities more consistent. “Until now, we have taken skill-based outings on a limited basis with some of our clients using our own personal vehicles or a rented van,”
Kristine explains. “A proper bus would open a whole new world of possibility by allowing even more of our clients to take part in these experiences. But we need help to make this dream a reality.” To date, Potential has raised more than 80% of the $50k needed for their “Buy the Bus” campaign, an impressive accomplishment given the challenges faced by nonprofits in 2020.
Sadly, Potential’s beloved Car Show was canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19. Then, their Gala needed to be rescheduled and ultimately was held virtually. Still, the community rallied to support the initiative. “We are getting so close to making this a reality,” says Hillary Sawyer, the Donor Relationship Manager at Potential. “By supporting this initiative, donors are investing in the future of our clients and our community.
“When speaking with community members that want to help,” says Hillary, “I ask them to put themselves in the shoes of these families and think about what it would mean to finally be able to go out to a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion together. Or to take part in a grandparent’s birthday party. Or to even have their child help with simple errands.”
Johnny’s mom, Kristen, concurs, “I always wanted Johnny to be exposed to social settings, but I was so scared of what others would think.” “This is a chance to make a truly life-changing difference,” says Hillary. “Every dollar donated gets us a step closer to making life easier for our families and clients. We can empower our clients with the skills they need to participate in activities of daily living.”
The community has always played a critical role in helping Potential fulfill the mission to support individuals with autism, and they are grateful for the assistance. “It will take all of us working together to make a difference in the lives of our clients and their families,” says Hillary. “If anyone would like to learn more about this initiative, please visit our website at www.potentialinc.org or https://tinyurl.com/ buythebus. Your support means the world to us and to those whom we serve.
Evan’s Story: “The first thing that strikes you about Evan is his smile. The second is his remarkable memory— particularly when it comes to movies. A Disney/ Pixar aficionado, Evan is quick to tell you a character’s name, a favorite quote, or distinguishing feature. But socializing hasn’t always come easily for him. Since coming to Potential, Evan’s teachers have been working to provide opportunities for him to interact with others. Outings provide a great setting for this.
Last year, during a school trip to Six Flags, Evan made great strides in this area—just by spending time with his peers. He gravitated toward two other Potential students on the trip and spent the day with them, learning how to wait in line and behave on rides. Evan even took his first roller coaster ride – an experience that he calls both his favorite and his scariest.”
Johnny’s Story: Johnny's mom, Kristin, echoes the sentiment of other Potential families. "I always wanted him to be exposed to social settings." She explains that before coming to Potential, Johnny would run away in uncomfortable settings. "Now we can go to the mall and walk around together. He even stops and waits for me if he walks too far ahead. If I had the money, I would buy the bus for Potential myself. These children and adults need these outings!"
Jimmy & Eileen’s Story: This year, the winner of Potential’s Annual ACE Award (chosen from dozens of nominations of local individuals that have made a difference within the local autism community) was Eileen McHugh.
As a Mobile Therapist and BSC (Behavioral Specialist Consultant), Eileen was nominated for her work with Jimmy.
While this work was not done through Potential, it was recognized by the award committee for the life-changing impact on Jimmy and his family. The family is eternally grateful for the support she provided.
Christina’s Story: Christina's older sister, Amber, knows her sister has come a long way. "Last year, she joined us for my birthday dinner," Amber says. "I'm so proud of how far she has come. I know she can be better. I think with more exposure (to social settings), she'll be able to go anywhere with no problems."
Do you know a neighbor doing great things in our Yardley or Newtown communities?
E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it, we may be able to share the story in an upcoming issue.
Story by Heather DiPrato. Photos by Cindy Fatsis.