My life has been impacted many times by the power of community.
Even as I reflect on my childhood, I realize that I was very fortunate because of the community I had supporting me. Whether it was my friends, the teachers at school, or my Jewish community, I always had people rallying around me, helping me succeed.
There has always been a community to support me.
I love my Jewish community.
After 20 years of marriage, it was the power of that community that influenced my husband’s conversion to Judaism.
We went on a mission trip with the Jewish Federation, and it was the first time my husband really felt that he was a part of something. He felt like the people really cared—because they did.
Being a part of the Jewish community, regardless of whether or not he was Jewish, really changed Rob’s outlook on the importance of community in his life.
It was this same community that was a huge strength for me as I supported my Dad through the cancer that eventually took his life.
Without my community, I wouldn’t have made it through nearly as well.
I’ve had many experiences throughout my life where my community has built me up and sustained me—even in the most difficult of times.
I recently experienced a community like no other.
As a mother of six kids, one of the hardest things for me has always been when my kids struggle, when they feel like they don’t fit in, and when they feel like they’re alone.
It’s heartbreaking as a parent because sometimes you can’t fix things no matter how hard you try.
And having a child with autism can sometimes feel really lonely.
A lot of people don’t understand. Some talk about bad behavior, the inability to focus, or meltdowns, not understanding that every child is unique.
The ultimate goal for any child should be to meet them where he or she or they are at.
This is exactly what the Autism Center of Excellence focuses on.
The Easterseals community is a safe space for parents with autistic children.
The moment I walked through the door, I felt like part of a community. It made me think about all those times we struggled with others accepting Noah. All of those feelings of sadness washed away, and I felt both love and acceptance the moment I entered their building.
I was visiting the Easterseals in Sarasota Manatee to write an article for the local magazine about their Autism Center of Excellence.
But I found so much more—a nationwide community of people who know exactly what it’s like to have an autistic child.
The Autism Center of Excellence is an advocate for our children.
Their Lily School meets every child where they are at—from diagnosis to all of the different therapies a child could need and a personalized education all in one place.
They have a preschool that starts at six weeks old, and it’s an inclusive preschool.
This means that if a family has a child with autism or another developmental issue, and they also have a child with no developmental delays, they can both go to the Lily School together.
They also have an elementary school and a high school that goes all the way up to 22 years old.
And because they meet a child where they are, if a child isn’t ready to be in class with other kids their age, the school puts the child in a classroom that they feel would be the best place for that child developmentally.
They also have adult day programs where the oldest adult that attends is 82 years old.
It just warms my heart that this community is available.
I love the structure of having everything in one place, so you don’t have to drive all over the place to get the help you need.
This is something we had to do with Noah, and it wasn’t always easy. I can’t tell you how many trips we took to his therapist, then to his doctor, then to his institution, just trying to get him the help we knew he needed.
Walking into their center felt like I was automatically a member of a community—one I’ve always wanted to be a part of.
There were people there who truly understood me—individuals and families who were also navigating the challenges of raising a child with autism.
Having a community that supports autistic children is a game-changer for parents.
I spoke with a mother of quadruplets during my visit.
When one of her sons stopped speaking, the preschool they were at told them that they didn’t have the ability to keep him at school. This mother and her husband were heartbroken.
So when they came to look at the Lilly preschool, she was really worried that they wouldn’t take him because all she had experienced was one school after another, saying they couldn’t help her.
At the time, her autistic son would rub things on his face or rub his face on objects for sensory stimulation. When they walked into the classroom with her son, they weren’t even there for two minutes before he started rubbing his face on the carpet.
Instantly, she looked at her husband, and they thought, “This is it. They’re not going to take him.”
But they were happily surprised when it was the complete opposite.
As soon as her son started rubbing his face on the carpet, both the teacher and the director smiled at him.
The mother and her husband immediately knew they had found their community. It was a moment of relief for both of them, and they knew it was exactly where their family needed to be.
Not only was this woman a mom there, but she now works at the center because of everything they do. She loves their mission, she loves the children there, and most of all, she loves the difference she’s seen in her own child since he started. She said those differences are astronomical.
Having a place where you belong is what community is all about.
Community is about building people up and supporting them where they are.
It’s about helping someone when they feel completely and sincerely alone.
Finding your community is about finding a place where they accept all of you—even the challenging parts.
It’s also about coming together for a greater purpose—to improve and champion the life of another.
Visiting the Eastertseals was like coming home for me.
Not only did it give me another incredible community of support for my own little family, but it reminded me of all the communities that I’m already a part of.
These communities have strengthened me, supported me, built me up, and accepted all of me. They have impacted my life in so many positive ways.
We all need to find our community and never settle for anything less.
Every child and every adult needs to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves.
And above all, we all need to remember that we are never alone.
So go out there and find your community. And as they support you, do all that you can to pass it on and give support to others.
Because that’s truly what community is all about.