by Lisa Ackerman
Another year has flown by. It feels like the time between each end of year update presents itself just a little bit faster each year. I’ve found that the time flies because there’s no shortage of activity to report and I always enjoy the opportunity to catch everyone up on what’s going on at TACA.
TACA continues to fulfill the needs of a community that is seeking hope, help and support for their children. We are moving into our 20th year as a foundation. 20 years!
In those first 20 years, TACA’s services were primarily centered around newly diagnosed and young children. 20 years later, we serve all ages. We’re growing to expand our mission to address the new realities of families whose children diagnosed with autism are now adults.
We never have a slow time at TACA. Even though our team has grown, there are never extra resources. TACA delivers its mission through a team of dedicated, hardworking and caring individuals who are all aligned with a common goal of helping families living with autism. Needless to say, I’m very proud of Team TACA and what we’ve accomplished together.
Without fail, since our inception, I have sent out an end of year update. Every year I have shared a window into my son Jeff’s journey. Inspiring, heartwarming, motivating, uplifting; none of these words are powerful enough to express the impact this young man has on my family.
Jeff is a 22-year-old man making plans for his future and that future is bright. It’s his second junior year. Moving through each semester with 10-12 units, Jeff’s goal has been to make his college experience enjoyable and fulfilling. We know it will not be a standard 4-year experience. Considering we didn’t even think college was a possibility, nothing needs to be within a standard parameter.
Jeff did something pretty incredible this semester: he “aced” his finals and in each class achieved “A” level work. To say we are proud of him is an understatement. I couldn’t do and didn’t do that!
I feel like I say the same thing every year, and at the risk of being redundant I’m going to say it again: Jeff continues to show more growth and maturity in managing stress, novel situations and independently developing new skills.
Evidence of this growth was apparent at our Ante Up for Autism gala. He came to the stage and surprised me by making a 5 minute speech introducing me to the audience of almost 400 guests. I would like to share his speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0P9eGOQBtU&feature=youtu.be
For fun, Jeff continues music lessons in piano and guitar. He’s committed to regular exercise and helping me in the kitchen making gluten and dairy free creations. His favorite activities includes going to any live concert and hanging out with friends.
Jeff has come so far since his autism diagnosis and original prognosis (see earlier blogs for those details – 1.) The most important lesson that I’ve learned: Individuals with an autism diagnosis can have a positive future and are worth every effort to help them achieve that goal. Team TACA’s wish is that they are able to be fulfilled, happy and successful while living as independently as possible.
NOW on to TACA: this incredible team of volunteers and staff works hard to provide education, support and empowerment to families living with autism. Here are some highlights from 2019:
- Our social media presence has grown significantly to reaching over 300,000 with posts reaching millions. We continue our message of positivity. Sharing how to create good health and raise for the bar for all living with autism.
- We broke a record and gave out 601 scholarships! (and we are not done!) These are shared with families in need including: medical visits, conference and family activities.
- 5th Annual National Coffee Talk Day in 74 locations gathering over 600 attendees across the country. One family captured the day “I’ve felt so alone. I’m so glad to have met you!”
- 751 families were matched in our (trained, insured and managed) mentor program to more effectively navigate their autism journey.
- Two National TACA Autism Conferences were held in California and Georgia with over 2,000 attendees.
- Our online Facebook forum just for parents to find community, receive education and support which now hosts almost 10,000 members. Thousands of questions were answered, and immeasurable hope provided.
This list is only a small portion of what TACA has accomplished in 2019. We will be publishing a full report early in 2020.
I know I have said thank you in general, but, I have some specific shout-outs for the TACA staff. Thank you to Jackie, Carolyn, Di, Moira, Cindy, Janice, Nicole, Kelly, Sim, Susan, Heather, Michelle, Tara, Ace, April, Monique, Melanie and Jessica. Thank you to the best Board who serve, guide and fundraise to help make it all happen (Glen, Dan, Elizabeth, Robby, Keith, Erich, Kim and Inna.) Team TACA is the best!
A special, heartfelt thank you to our 75 INCREDIBLE Volunteer Chapter Coordinators leading chapters in their areas across the country and our 312 Parent Mentors who serve selflessly. You are core to our mission of Families Helping Families and ensure that our programs reach many in local communities. TACA would be lost without this incredibly dedicated team of volunteers living with and navigating autism in their own homes all the while paying it forward to help others.
We have two other incredible groups that help us move autism forward and that includes TACA’s Ambassadors and Physician Advisory Team. They support TACA in their professional circles and talk about autism on a regular basis. These friends have made invaluable contributions to help champion the mission with webinars, conference lectures, donated appointments, donations and their valuable time.
To our over 3,000 supporters: thank you for investing in TACA. Thank you for standing with us. The bottom line TACA does NOT exist without these generous people. Many of these folks are staying with us for years caring, cheering TACA families on, anxious to hear about new treatment research and hoping the best outcomes for their children.
And to TACA Families: We are so proud of you! Keep doing what you are doing. If you need help or want a refresher course, TACA is here for you. We believe in your kids. We see you working hard and all of us at TACA are proud of you! I hope you get an opportunity to check out our 8th Annual TACA Celebrations Campaign where we celebrate our kids’ accomplishments over the last year. You can see these on our national Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/TheAutismCommunityInAction/. These stories are beyond inspiring.
Despite my hopes and wishes for each new year, autism is STILL the least funded disability in America with more individuals diagnosed than any other childhood disability. (1) The most recent CDC funded survey now reports 1 in 59 U.S. children have been diagnosed with autism (2.) Another parent survey reported the number of 1 in 40 (3.) TACA continues to find ways to acquire help and provide our programs every year with little funding. We are always looking for more help for our mission. We are asking the families we serve to please share this blog with someone who can make a donation to help TACA assist more families living with autism.
Looking forward Team TACA is also working on a plan. There are many holes in what is being done at a federal and state level to help families. We are working hard to identify those needs, share what is needed and engage those who could help to help families (4.) Please share this plan with your favorite political candidates.
In closing, the hope I have for my son and all our children remains –together, we will work towards the future and create positive outcomes for all. Together we can be the autism community in action for the families who need us. Thank you for being a friend to families living with autism.
Happy New Year!
All my best for 2020 & beyond,
TACA Executive Director & Co-founder, Mom to Jeff & Lauren, grandma to Will and wife to Glen
P.S. We need additional support for TACA’s mission and programs. If you have a friend that would like to make a gift for “The Power to Change the Future Campaign in your family’s honor please help https://tacanow.org/year-end-2019/
- Some past blogs on our journey: