Things looked grim this fall for the grassroots nonprofit after-school program for autistic teens founded by Brenda Wilson in June 2009 after her grandson Ryan was diagnosed with the complex, brain-based disorder.
In fact, this past fall, the Ryan Woods Autism Foundation of Middletown teetered on the edge of closing several times after it for more than three years provided after-school and school vacation programs for teens ages 13 and up affected by autism, Asperger's Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. RWAF specifically focuses on this age group because teens are more vulnerable to gangs, Wilson said.
On Sept. 30, Wilson sent a massive email to the families it serves and community members saying it was moving out of state Oct. 30 due to lack of school district support and referrals to RWAF, a monthly rent it had difficulty paying, and the failure of the state Department of Social Services Medicaid/Husky plan to approve RWAF as a supplier.
But after some generous support from two benefactors, on Oct. 17, Wilson sent out a jubilant email, reading in part, "We are remaining at our existing location. … We are absolutely elated and overjoyed!"
Developer Peter Harding, who owns Riverview Center, where RWAF is based, gave the organization a significant break on the rent. "He's a phenomenal man," Wilson said.
A week later, Wilson announced three new students had enrolled in the after-school program. Since then, the Middletown Public School District, under the new leadership of Dr. Patricia Charles, has begun referring students to RWAF.
And now things are looking even better after the nonprofit announced it just received a $10,000 community grant from Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization. Wilson applied for the grant two years ago, when RWAF was based at the high school, and was denied. "It's a very competitive grant," she said.
And already RWAF has begun to pay the grant forward by offering a child a 12-month scholarship (valued at $182 per month), "because we want to give back even though we're still in the receiving stages."
The remaining funds will go toward upgrading their sensory station and allow for a permanent, part-time child psychologist to join the staff. The candidate, Wilson says, graduated this year from Central Connecticut State University and she'll be working on her masters degree.
Autism Speaks is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
The Ryan Woods Autism Foundation after-school program offers social and life skills; building lifelong relationships with peer mentors and college interns. Instruction will include cooking; setting the table, yoga breathing techniques; board games to encourage communication; fishing from the shore during the summer months; and enjoy nutritional meals and beverages.
The goal is to bring a whole dimension of learning outside of the classroom to Connecticut teens to prepare them to be independent as they age out of the system and become independent, taxpaying, law-abiding citizens.
For information on autism, and on the Jan. 27 bowling trip, Jan. 20 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Jan. 19 Parent Support Group, and Learning Music in Colors piano program, see here call (860) 788-7277 or email email@example.com.