Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Special%20Needs
A Time of Giving
Local individuals dedicated to special needs

by Carrie Bishop

December 01, 2011

For many, December is a time of giving. For some, there is no set time. They give year-round. Here’s a look at three people who every day make a difference for kids and families with special needs.

A Determined Mom

Jane Grimes’ daughter was 6 when she was diagnosed with autism.

At the time, Grimes said very few doctors knew about the disorder, let alone friends and the school system. To her there seemed to be little to no support in her hometown of Noblesville. “I didn’t know who to talk to,” she said.

Grimes is not one to sit on the sidelines. She knew she needed support and imagined others like her needed support too. She set up a time for people to meet at a local coffee shop with a goal to make Noblesville a better town for kids with autism.

It lasted two months, but not for lack of interest.

“We had more and more people showing up. We had our first meeting with just four or five of us. Then by the third month it was like 30. It got bigger and bigger,” she said. People came from Bloomington, Anderson, Terre Haute and elsewhere.

“It wasn’t even a nonprofit at that point. It was all of us sitting around talking about where we were, what we needed, our struggles. We really supported each other. It was a very genuine group of individuals helping each other get through some really difficult times,” she recalls.

That was six years ago. The small support group became the active Hamilton County Autism Support Group, for which she served as president, a fully volunteer position.

The autism community has gained from the support group and stands to gain even more as the organization shifts gears to focus on providing scholarship funding to individuals with autism ages 15 on up for employment, vocational and college assistance. Its new name is the Indiana Autism Scholarship Fund.

“This is a passion. Where in the world are all the individuals with autism going to be in five and 10 years with autism rates as high as they are? Where are they going to be employed? We’ve got to address it. We have to address it,” said Grimes.

Like the support group she started six years ago, the Indiana Autism Scholarship Foundation is starting at ground level. With her determination and the very real need individuals with autism have for help in obtaining and maintaining employment, this is an organization that may well implement real change in the community.

The original support group continues to grow under Noble of Indiana’s leadership and is now called Central Indiana Autism Support Group.

A Calling to Help Kids

In 2001 Richard and Elizabeth Shafer’s life forever changed when their granddaughter died shortly after birth. Through their grief they felt called upon to help children with special needs. The following January, Hope’s Way was founded.

“My husband and I had always had a heart for underprivileged kids and wanted to do something, but put it on the back burner,” said Elizabeth.

Hope’s Way is a cost-free recreation center in Bainbridge that currently serves between 900 and 1000 people each year. This includes kids with special needs as well as their families because as Elizabeth said, “It’s a family thing.”

Though the Hope’s Way mission is to enhance the quality of life, health and emotional wellbeing of children with special needs and their families, their hearts are open for all people. Recently a woman with Alzheimer’s came to ride a horse as it had been a dream of hers and her family wanted to make it possible as a last wish. Their work has extended to help homeless, troubled teens and many others. The way Richard sees it, “I’m from Texas and any child who has not ridden a horse has a special need.” In other words, all are welcome at the ranch.

The volunteer-run operation is open seven days a week April through October with a Teddy Bear Picnic scheduled the third Saturday each month. Hope’s Way provides all the food though families often bring side dishes and others like Kroger and a nearby hog farmer pitch in too.

Hope’s Way facilities include a petting zoo, horse rides, hayrides, stagecoach rides, mining for gold, a large and growing Western town, and playground. More information can be found at www.hopeswayinc.org.

Richard said miracles happen at Hope’s Way. He recalls a nonverbal boy with autism who visited Hope’s Way. As the child was leaving the ranch he looked at Richard and said “Goodbye. I’ll see you.” The family was stunned. When the child returned to the ranch again, he and his brother took Richard’s hand and led him to where they wanted to go.

“When I sit back and look at what’s going on, I think my heavens, are we really doing this? We know it’s not really us. It’s God doing it through us. He sends people to help,” Elizabeth said and gives thanks for the board of directors, advisory board, neighbors and sponsors.