This is my story, the story of how Fill-A-Need Foundation came to be. My name is Katie and I am a mother of three beautiful children. My oldest has Autism. Like most families, my husband and I didn’t know what steps to take to help our son. We began to educate ourselves by reading literature, going to lectures and seminars, trying to understand his diagnosis and what his future will look like.
One night in particular stands out for me, my son was only 4 years old and I attended a small seminar for parents with adults with Autism who were graduating from high school. The speaker was a director of one of the largest organizations supporting Autism in my area. She spoke about what would happen after high school. During her lecture, she said with much emotion and concern that our children would graduate to “NOTHINGNESS”; that it will be as if they just fall off a cliff. She actually went on to say that after graduating from high school, my son with Autism will go home and sit on my couch for the rest of his life. She continued on about how there were no programs in place, many waiting lists across the US, no funds, and so on and so forth. My heart was so heavy. It just didn’t seem possible. She ended her speech with advice to the parents; she stated that it was up to us, as parents to secure a future, any future, for our children. This was the initial spark behind Fill-A-Need Foundation.
As an architect by trade, my mind did not allow me to sleep that night, nor for many nights thereafter. The initial vision of a program after high school for my son began to form. Thinking that we had some time, my plans moved quite slowly at first, until one day I ran into a friend. As an attorney she spoke about having to defend a young lady with Autism. After graduating from high school, she went home. Both parents worked full time and this young lady had enough life skills to be left home alone. She would often walk around the community and one day a group of young men convinced her to stand on a street corner and take money for the bags of drugs they provided her. She was arrested and put into a jail cell, she was completely devastated and she didn’t understand why she couldn’t return home. The prosecutor wanted to put her in jail for three years. Fortunately, she was allowed to return home to her parents but still without a program to attend and on a waiting list for services. My vision became crucial. This young lady should have had a place to go to. A loving place that would stimulate her, support her, keep her safe, and to bring her to her fullest potential.
While pushing forward and designing this day program, I continued to attend seminars and lectures. One seminar I attended spoke of programs that are up and running for adults with Autism and other special needs. One particular successful program that was mentioned in a seminar had adults sitting at a long table. The adults were focused, working and seemingly content in their environment. One parent in the audience asked what they were working on and the speaker replied, “They are cleaning cable equipment.” I was compelled to ask, “What if my son doesn’t want to clean cable equipment?” The response was, “There are not many programs out there so if this is the job that is offered, he should take it. It is something instead of nothing.” At that moment, I realized that I didn’t just need to create a program that will offer my son a future, but he deserved to have a choice in life. He has passions and likes just like you or me. He puts more effort into things he likes rather than things he is forced to do, just like you or me.
That was the fire behind Fill-A-Need Foundation. That fire created a mission. It wasn’t just about ‘having a place to go’. It wasn’t just ‘something instead of nothing’. I felt compelled to create a program that will give adults with Autism and other special needs the chance to find their passion and choose a skill that will make them happy. A skill that will give them pride and self-worth in an environment that is loving, safe, and stimulating. While acknowledging the importance of the proper support and therapy, I had to incorporate a structured schedule that will be individualized. I understand the importance of low tuition, and a healthy environment. The most significant aspect of this vision is to bridge the gap that exists between adults with Autism and other special needs and the community. The result of all these needs will be The Hamlet: a green campus, that offers a vocational training academy and is connected with the community. This is my story… and I hope you are as inspired as I am, and will join us in this amazing journey.