The Ocala Autism Support Network is a non-profit organization designed to provide free services to individuals with autism and their families. They were established in 2011.
The other great experience I had was running into an old friend. One of the founders of this network is the mother of an old high school friend who definitely had a big impact on me growing up. When I was a senior in high school, I was the assistant director of the show The Boys Next Door which is an incredible play about four disabled men and their caretaker living in a group home and their day to day lives. I was fortunate enough to attend a magnet school for the performing arts and the cast and myself were sent on several field trips to schools for disabled students, facilities for disabled adults, and an actual group home where we spent the entire day with the men who lived there. We helped them do their chores that day and even went bowling with them in the afternoon. It was one of the MOST rewarding experiences in my entire life and has definitely impacted my decision to go into education.
Well, Mrs. Perales of the Ocala Autism Support Network, has two children with disabilities: one with down syndrome and one with autism. She was so on-board with this play and the research we were doing and drove us high-schoolers around several times in order to learn more about the disabilities were we working on. She contacted people for us, she made arrangements for us, and she was like the drama class mom for all of us.
I have been thinking back to the experience I had in high school all day today! I decided to search the vast resources on the internet to find anything about it from 2006 and I found the article in the newspaper about it! You GOTTA read it! It has quotes from Mrs. Perales and mentions my brother (Joey) who played the character Barry, a man with schizophrenia. What memories!!! Click the photo below to go to the original 2006 article. <3
I'll never forget the year when I graduated from high school, Mrs. Perales came with her son to my graduation party and gave me a copy of the book Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss with a written note of encouragement on the inside cover. I still have it in pristine condition (which will likely change when I decide to read it to my classes throughout the years...) and recently flipped through it again as I am packing to move. I packed it along with all my other books in preparation to move in the coming weeks but had I known I would see her again today I would have kept it out and taken a picture of her note in the cover! I will certainly write an updated post when I unpack it in a few weeks in my new house.
It was nice to see her today and learn from her the services her non-profit organization is providing to my community. I am happy to say that I will be working closely with them as the Education Director and I plan and implement a new program at the community theater for students with autism. I will go into more detail about this program in the next couple of months as we figure everything out, but today we took another step towards our goal for the education department.
I am so excited and motivated right now!!!!