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It is the last week of Autism Awareness Month. I hope you have learned more about the condition and two amazing organizations in Houston that offer support services — Social Motion Skills and Aspire Accessories.
Today, we feature an organization near and dear to my heart – Autism Rescue Angels. Lisa Graham-Garza, who started the organization with Penny Khuri, is a dear friend and Jim and I have served on the board. Lisa’s learned so much throughout her son’s autism journey, she is a wealth of knowledge and passion, and out of that she created Autism Rescue Angels to help families in need.
As parents, we all want the best for our kids. Raising a special needs child has its share of challenges. Lisa has started an organization to ease the financial burden so that families need not add these stressors to the list.
Read more about Lisa and Autism Rescue Angels below.
ET: Tell us about Autism Rescue Angels, who it serves and how.
LGG: Autism Rescue Angels was begun in 2014 to funnel practical financial help to families in need. It is the only organization of its kind in Houston.
Texas provides meager assistance for kids diagnosed with autism. It is third from the bottom in the nation for servicing children with disabilities in public schools and through the public sector. There was not enough money allocated when measures were adopted in the legislature years ago and there is certainly not enough with numbers of those diagnosed rising. It used to be 1 in 220 had autism. Now, 1 in 45 has autism.
With limited public assistance, autism can be a financially draining diagnosis as families must pay for necessary, expensive therapies. The sad reality is that many families go bankrupt.
ET: What is your personal story of autism and how did it inspire you to start the organization?
LGG: I have a 14-year-old son, Tyler, with severe autism, so I have personal experience with the therapies, schools and issues involved with raising a kid with special needs. I know personally how expensive these specialized therapies can be.
I started Autism Rescue Angels with friend Penny Khuri whose son, Gregory, is also on the spectrum. We met through our kids’ school and had worked together through other organizations.
After seeing families burdened with financial stress, we founded the organization to help relieve the pressure for families who need it. I like to say ARA was “born out of anger and outrage of nothing being done.”
Click the video below for more on ARA and how it supports autism families.
ET: How did you get Elaine involved with the organization?
LGG: I’d been an Elaine Turner customer forever and took note of their charity model. I approached Elaine at an event and told her I was interested in partnering with them. We had several meetings, then Elaine and Jim joined the board.
ET: Can you tell us some success stories of how the organization has helped autism families?
LGG: ARA helps one family at a time. The needs are very diverse. We help kids as young as 2 and as old as 28. We helped one family with multiple autistic children. We’ve funded therapy, a special car seat, paid for seizure medications, and provided advocates to engage schools for assistance. We provide bridges of assistance that families are challenged to cross. (To give you an idea of the needs these families face and their resulting gratitude, click here.)
The money that we are able to distribute is raised through our annual luncheon, generous private and corporate donations, shopping parties and private events.
ET: What are the current, hot button issues regarding autism?
LGG: Definitely funding for autism in Texas is an issue. Texas is a hard place to live because of the lack of funding through tax dollars. Houston has a ton of resources but they are all private pay.
One bright spot now as opposed to when my son was first diagnosed is that today with social media, autism parents can easily connect with each other for support. I used to have to connect with parents in doctors’ offices, but now it is much easier. And I am happy that through ARA, we’re able to put families in touch with each other for support.
The purpose of the organization is to be a bridge of assistance and get the conversation started regarding
issues that need to be addressed. Until a your child is diagnosed, you do not realize what is or is not happening for autistic kids. Also, personally, our family is trying to prepare for when Tyler is older.
ET: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LGG: Autism is different in terms of disabilities because the kids often look like peer typicals. For this reason, ARA is expanding their reach into the community to work with law enforcement and first responders so they know how to handle situations that may arise. In this way, we are a voice advocating for a protocol for first responders so they recognize autistic individuals are not criminal or psychiatric. We are visiting with first responders and encouraging families to get to know first responders in their area.
Lastly, ARA always needs donors, especially corporate donors. Currently the organization has a wait list for aid. If you feel moved to provide assistance that would ease the burden for a family affected by autism, follow this link to make a donation.
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