By Stacy Turner
Share A Vision is a Mentor-based charitable organization on a mission to enrich the lives of children and young adults with autism and special needs.
Debbie Godfrey, Share A Vision’s treasurer, stated that the organization typically fulfills 14–20 requests each year, worth an estimated $10,000 per year. She explained, “Typically, teachers will request funding to purchase specific equipment or special outings, like a field trip to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to learn about animals.” Requests include funding for adaptive equipment and things like a new stroller to help with mobility issues, or an iPad to help a nonverbal child communicate.”
Requests also include funding for recreational things like swimming lessons, special art classes, or adaptive equipment. Although they have a set amount of funding each year, Godfrey was happy to note the organization had very few unfulfilled grant requests. The not-for-profit organization holds one major fundraiser each year and is supported by donations from community groups and individuals, as well.
Lindsay Laufik serves as secretary on the Share A Vision board. She’s also a high school structured language teacher at Mentor Cares, a state-of-the-art educational, training and resource facility for children and young adults with autism based within Mentor Public Schools. Laufik’s first experience with Share A Vision was when the organization gave her the opportunity to take a Mentor Cares class to Disney. In order to prepare for the trip, Laufik spent time preparing her five special needs students for the five-day trip. Prior to the trip, they made several visits to the airport in order to know what to expect during travel. Students were able to locate restrooms, practice going through standard security screenings, and had the opportunity to board an airplane, which was a new experience for most students. They learned how to be good travelers, and how to be around others on an airplane.
Since the group planned to visit five Disney parks in five days, a monumental task for any school group, students were provided with a schedule of the rides the group would experience while at each park well in advance. They studied videos to determine how fast or slow each ride was, and which rides they were most likely to get wet on. Since sensory issues play a big role for students on the autism spectrum, (factors like which rides would expose riders to bright lights, loud noises, and darkness) preparation ahead of time gave kids the opportunity to decide which rides they would enjoy, and which to avoid on their trip. When it came time to travel, students understood what to expect, and the trip was successful.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for families who wouldn’t normally have this type of support,” Laufik explained. It’s also opened up new opportunities for students and their families. “I’ve had parents who weren’t previously able take their child on a plane on their own, thankful of the support learned through the program.”
Share A Vision also works with Mentor area businesses to take the students to movie theaters, and entertainment venues that offer special hours with lower lights and softer music so that individuals with sensory issues have an easier time at a movie or an indoor trampoline park or while doing some holiday shopping.
“When Ed and Gail Ott founded Share A Vision on behalf of their son with special needs, they wanted him to have the tools to be out in the world, and an opportunity to enrich his life,” Godfrey explained. Since the organization’s inception in 1987, the number of children that have benefited has grown exponentially.
The classes and outings are handled in such a way that students can learn in ways they can understand. Through these programs, students also learn how to respond in social settings and how to be more open to those outside their small group of classmates, family and friends.
“My experience with Share A Vision has really opened my eyes to some of the struggles these families go through. And these programs help the kids become more well-rounded, learning some of the skills they’ll need to help them be successful after high school,” said Godfrey.
Although many Share A Vision grant applications come from Mentor Cares students and their families, according to Laufik, “we’ve received grant requests from Willoughby, Eastlake, Painesville, and Euclid, but even as far away as Solon.” Grant requests are considered in the order in which they are received. Not all grants are for opportunities as big as a trip to Disney. “It’s awesome to experience these opportunities with the kids, or to see pictures of them using their adaptive equipment.”
Godfrey agreed, “While the kids learn valuable skills as Share A Vision grants their requests, those around them learn that individuals with special needs are just like you and I.”