As the parent of a child with Autism I can truly tell you from the bottom of my heart that I have most probably walked in your shoes at one time or another. Even though our children are as different as snowflakes they are still so similar. I can tell you that I have lived through the melt downs and tantrums, the running, the fights to get him in the shower, the inappropriate comments in school and so on and so on. After years of trying to understand him and communicate with him and years of trying to find him a place in this world I was about ready to throw up my hands and yell “uncle” but I kept hearing my Dad’s voice telling me to “find a solution.” He had always encouraged me to find a way to make things better.
In 2011 I had a dream. The dream was to find a place where my son with Autism would fit in and be just what he was, a child. A place where he could be free to be just himself. Not the autistic kid or the quirky kid or the difficult, angry, depressed kid, just Matthew, the funny, artistic, smart, sensitive kid who just wanted a real friend. The kind of place that he would remember fondly as the place where he could use his imagination and create art the way he saw it, a place where he could attempt to climb the biggest tree or catch his first fish with a pole or learn how to overcome his biggest fears, the fear of never belonging, the fear of rejection, the fear of not knowing the right thing to say or how to express his feelings. A place that most of have known and experienced, a place that we can go back to anytime we want to and remember some of the good things about our childhood. A place like, summer camp or maybe an after school recreation center. I searched the internet for days and much to my dismay could find nothing designed specifically for children with a primary diagnosis of Autism, Asperger's Syndrome or related developmental disability in Richmond or even the state of Virginia. It was during one of these very frustrating moments that the inner voice that we all hear at one point in time or another said "go ahead, you get something started". My first reaction was to chuckle and then of course the argument ensued. Sure, I thought, great idea, I have no clue on how to start a summer camp or after school program. I know nothing about non-profits, I am a single mom with two children under the age of 13 and I need a full time job with benefits! However, by the next day I was reading everything I could about how to start a non-profit, summer camps and activities for children with Autism. Call it insanity or a leap of faith (I personally choose the latter!) but in August 2011, Richmond Autism Integration Network(RAIN)was "born" and on June 29, 2012 (not quite a year later) I officially resigned from my full time State of Virgina job with benefits to open Camp Free2BMe. The following year RAIN started RAIN After School, the first licensed after school recreation program designed for kids on the autism spectrum in the state of Virginia!