By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Parent volunteer Kirti Singh is cooking up life skills for students at Morgan Autism Center. Every Tuesday she joins staff and students from Room 18 — including her son, pictured with her below — in the school’s fully equipped kitchen, where she leads 30-minute cooking sessions.
“Morgan Autism Center has done so much for my son. I wanted to contribute and I thought cooking with his class is something I could do comfortably,” Kirti explains of how the two-year partnership began. “I think fixing a healthy meal for oneself is not only a life skill but also an art that your taste buds can relish.”
Kirti kicks off each session by introducing a recipe that is easy to prepare and children can enjoy, regardless of diet. Many students in the class are on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, commonly known as GFCF, or have other dietary restrictions due to medical reasons or otherwise.
“Some of the most popular items that we have cooked are potato latkes, coconut macaroons, chocolate avocado ice cream, brown rice tortilla chips, curried lentils, sprouted mung bean salad, zucchini noodles, cauliflower tortilla, chicken nuggets,” Kirti says. “The list is endless.”
She dishes out the necessary ingredients (which she brings with her) and equipment needed to make the recipe, and goes through the directions. The students are grouped up and they are assigned a step or take turns with the help of their aides. Once the session is over, the students compare what they have created to a picture of the finished product before sinking their teeth into the creation. In addition, Room 18 teachers Kristin Schaefer and Hailey McConnell send home the recipes each week.
“They get to experiment with different textures, colors and new foods which they may have never been exposed to,” Kirti says.
Judi Campbell, Director of Student Services, sees many benefits to the classes.
“I think the thing that strikes me most, besides the happy noise coming from the kitchen, is that kids will try foods they have rejected in the past like curried cauliflower or roasted broccoli,” she says. “They seem to have a greater curiosity to taste it when they have participated in making it.”
Room 18 Teacher Kristin Schaefer says she has seen this ring true with many of her students.
“Kyle requests different kinds of food and healthier options, both at home and at school, and Stephen tries veggies or things that aren’t his preferred items,” she says.
There have also been other transferable benefits, which Kristin shares.
“Jack is better at waiting his turn during food preparation and following directions and written recipes, while Selah is able to sit still and may attend until finishing a product,” she says.
Kirti says she is looking forward to seeing the students continue to grow through her weekly cooking classes.
“Volunteering for cooking classes at Morgan Autism Center is very fulfilling for me,” she says. “I look forward to spending time with these kids every Tuesday. It has taught me a lot about acceptance and believing in their capabilities. I feel all of them are smart, but trapped in their challenging body. I am glad I can do something for them.
Kirti Singh is an honors graduate from Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. She has a master’s degree in Food and Nutrition and has also worked as a dietician. Her entire family, including her son, have greatly benefited from a hypoallergenic and nutrient dense diet. She enjoys using the holistic approach to help people achieve their goals.
by Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Morgan Autism Center’s eighth annual Starry Starry Night set new records in both attendance and fundraising Saturday evening at the Fourth Street Summit Center in downtown San Jose.
Approximately 390 family, friends and community supporters turned out to raise their auction paddles in celebration of our everyday efforts and star artists, grossing approximately $300,000 for our School and Adult Programs, nearly $88,000 more than last year.
“Morgan Autism Center was clearly able to share its mission with a large audience,” Event Chairwoman Daren Tuchman says. “The giving spirit in the room became contagious. The generosity of all the guests was simply heartwarming.”
Tom Taksa, a client in Morgan Autism Center’s Adult Program, warmly welcomed attendees by playing saxophone alongside Ron Borelli on piano. The evening kicked off with a reception and Silent Auction composed of many sought-after packages and 12 one-of-a-kind art pieces created by our students and adult clients. The night continued with dinner and a program, led by co-hosts Peter Finch and Brad Boardman, Morgan Autism Center’s Executive Director, and a Live Auction led by Auctioneer Craig Silverman.
Every year, Morgan Autism Center recognizes people or organizations who make important contributions to the local autism community.
“It is only fitting that this year — as we focus on the need to expand options for adults — the award is presented to one of the first employers in our area to believe in the capabilities and promise of people with autism,” Peter said in the introductory comments for the Outstanding Leadership Award.
Since 1989, long before Microsoft or SAP, Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc. and its president George Ratermann has been providing valuable employment opportunities for adults with autism through the program at Morgan Autism Center. Watch the acceptance speech here. Read an article about the partnership here.
“Our clients are able to do their work on our site where they are comfortable,” Brad said. “They feel a great sense of accomplishment in working for Ratermann. George’s desire to be inclusive and to tap into the community and his personal relationships have yielded a great benefit to many and provide a model to others.”
Other heartwarming accounts were shared throughout the evening, including from Sibling Speaker Katelynn Moriarty (watch her speech here or read her speech here) and later during a video played for the culminating event, Fund Our Needs. The short documentary — created by Lisa Damrosch — tells the story of two of our students and one of our adult clients, and how Morgan Autism Center has positively impacted theirs and their families’ journey with autism. Watch it by clicking on the link here.
Following the short documentary, Brad talked briefly about where the funding would be used.
“Many of our students at Morgan Autism Center struggle with communication,” Brad said. “Tonight we are asking for your help to purchase computer devices and assessment tools to help our students get matched up to an appropriate communication systems, for assistance with other technology to help our teachers track student progress, for transportation funds to assist our students and clients access and volunteer in the community, and for enrichment funds to help us continue with our amazing programs such as art, music, science camp and more.”
Craig then asked attendees to hold up their paddles at the appropriate financial level to support the many program needs.
We would like to acknowledge several community leaders who supported us at the event: San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; San Jose City Councilmembers Charles “Chappie” Jones, Donald Rocha and Margie Matthews; and Sunnyvale Councilmember Jim Davis. Sal Pizarro, a columnist with the San Jose Mercury News, also came out to support the event. Read about his experience here.
Morgan Autism Center would also like to thank generous sponsors of this year’s Starry Starry Night, without whom the evening would not be possible: CBRE, John Sobrato, Jon and Mindy Gray, Joe and Lisa Moriarty, Vilma Palette, Wison Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation, Fremont Bank, Heritage Bank, Intel Corporation, Nena Montgomery and Michael Edson, Steve and Suzanne Gilbert, Focus Business Bank, Premier Nissan of San Jose, along with all of our family sponsors and other donors.
“Starry Starry Night was an amazing demonstration of how important Morgan Autism Center is to the community,” Brad Boardman said. “The night really showcased some of the things that make Morgan Autism Center great: the achievements of our students and clients, the leadership demonstrated by our relationship with Ratermann Manufacturing and the family story of our sibling speaker Katelynn Moriarty,” Brad says. “All this illustrates the transformative power that comes from student and client focused programming and community engagement.”
By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Visiting the doctor’s office can be scary for all young children. For a child with autism, that fear is often compounded by other developmental issues they inherit.
“About 40 percent of children with (Autism Spectrum Disorder) do not talk at all,” according to the Centers for Disease Control website. “About 25 to 30 percent of children with ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.”
Ute Ren, a Morgan Autism Center parent, knows the situation all too well.
“Our son is not able to comprehend what will be happening in a doctor’s office,” she says. “So I try to reenact it at home, and to make him familiar with the equipment through repetition.”
Because of this, “the last doctor visit was much better,” Ute says. “I was able to hold the stethoscope against his chest while the doctor was listening.”
Wanting to share this success with other parents, Ute — who is also a retired nurse — implemented the desensitizing practice at Morgan Autism Center nearly a year ago.
“I am so happy to volunteer and hope to develop more programs to help with the preventive care of our kids/adults,” she says.
On a monthly basis, Ute visits with students and adults. She reenacts taking their blood pressure, weighing them on a scale, checking their height and listening to their chest with a stethoscope. This happens all at the individuals’ own pace rather than within the time constraints dealt with at the doctor.
“I try to make the kids and adults familiar with the different equipment they would encounter in a doctor’s office,” Ute says. “Even if it seems like a tiny step, it can accumulate to a skill over time so that our kids can actively participate in their own care.”
In February, she held an in-service with Morgan Autism Center employees about the correct technique using an
EpiPen® Auto-Injector. This is a disposable, pre-filled automatic injection device that administers epinephrine in the event of a severe allergic reaction.
Despite Ute’s work so far, she believes there is more to be done.
“My next project is the dental care of people with a severe developmental disorder,” Ute says. “Most information is geared to patients who have the cognitive ability to follow directions.”
So she is currently gathering more information focused on addressing those needs.
Executive Director Brad Boardman explains his gratification with Ute’s services.
“Doctor’s appointments can be very intrusive for anyone,” he says. “Parents often struggle with getting to medical appointments due to the anxieties their children feel.”
Brad concludes: “This activity is designed to get students comfortable with basic doctor’s office behaviors so that parents can better access the necessary care for their families and to make a trip to the doctor a positive experience for everyone.”
By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Santa Clara University students are stepping off campus and signing into Morgan Autism Center’s Adult Program for valuable real-life lessons around social justice.
“Making connections beyond the boundaries of their classrooms and our campus, Santa Clara students have found it rewarding to learn with and from the community,” Tam Hixson, Program Director for Santa Clara University’s Community-based Learning, says.
In collaboration with local community organizations and faculty, she co-manages the Arrupe Weekly
Engagement Program and supports the integration of community engagement to meet learning objectives. Tam also co-supervises the Arrupe Internship Program, facilitating paraprofessional development opportunities for a select cohort of interns each year.
“(This is) an opportunity for them to really get out and learn about the realities of the world that we live in in a very direct and meaningful way,” Tam says.
Since its inception in 1986, partnerships have grown from eight community
organizations involving fewer than 100 students in 10 academic courses to almost 60 community partners throughout Santa Clara County who receive nearly 1,200
students each year, according to the website.
“We really do see our partnership with Morgan Autism Center and all of our community partners as mutually beneficial,” Tam says.
Since 2009, Morgan Autism Center has hosted 22 Santa Clara University undergraduate students through Arrupe.
Jennifer Sullivan, former Executive Director of Morgan Autism Center, says there were many reasons for forming the collaboration.
“In 2009, I was introduced to Shirley Okumura from the Arrupe Center,” she
recalls. “It was the year of our 40th anniversary, and she knew about our partnership with Santa Clara University through our conference, the federal grant SCU received because of our partnership and our teaching of the autism seminar in the summer.”
Jennifer continues: “I was always
looking for opportunities to partner with groups outside our campus, like CSMA, Sacred Heart, St. Nicholas, Red Ladder Theater group, YMCA and others. Because we already had a partnership with SCU, when I heard they had a volunteer program and were looking for places for their students to volunteer, Morgan Autism Center seemed an obvious choice.”
Tam says it has been a win-win
relationship for Santa Clara and Morgan Autism Center.
“It has been an integrated educational experience for students,” she says. “…You can imagine, the course is the lens we want them to look at that experience with.”
For example, juniors Will Holtz and Christina Camoriano are both enrolled in the religious course Architects of Solidarity — led by Professor Phillip Boo Riley — for the Winter quarter, which is paired with Morgan Autism Center. They visit every Wednesday for nearly two hours each during the 10-week course.
“It’s based around working with people in the margins; that’s the way our professor likes to say it,” Will explains. “That entails a lot of things, whether it is the homeless and poor or uneducated or here at the Morgan Autism Center.”
Each week, Will and Christina enjoy talking with clients while they have lunch before engaging in music and cooking activities. They finish the remaining two-hour period with board games. Santa Clara Senior Emily Campi has been visiting Morgan Autism Center since September through the Arrupe Internship Program.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with kids on the autism spectrum specifically, so I just kind of wanted to see what life after childhood looked like for people with these types of disabilities,” Emily says. “So when I saw Morgan Autism Center was an option, I was really excited about it.”
She commits six hours per week in the center’s Adult Program.
“She not only helps wherever she is needed, but has also started to implement her interest in health and nutrition by leading small groups twice a week,” Flo Fuller, the center’s Community Integration Director, says. “They are learning about the food pyramid and how to pack healthy lunches.”
Adult client Wanda, who has been a part of this group, says it has been helpful to her. During a recent session, she pulled a form out of her backpack created by Emily. It allows Wanda to record her meals during a weeklong period, also giving her a space to check the appropriate servings of each food group.
“We have been learning even more about foods that are healthy and not healthy, and about how much healthy foods we should eat and not to eat too much junk food or sugar,” Wanda says.
Emily is also planning to start new groups soon at Morgan Autism Center about hygiene and boundaries.
“I just really appreciate being able to incorporate my academic interests into my internship and doing something that is helpful for the clients in the Adult Program,” Emily says. “It has been great to see the connection between my academic life and real life, and see it come into action.”
Close bonds formed
The Santa Clara University students have also developed friendships with Morgan Autism Center clients through the program.
“Working with Chris and Jonathan has been a lot of fun,” Will says. “This is usually the table I try and pick.”
Jonathan chimes in: “I’ve also enjoyed talking with him about country music. I told him I am going to try and get tickets to the next Darius Rucker concert.”
Emily shares similar sentiments about forming close bonds with clients Matty and Stu, the first of which was formed quickly and the latter gradually.
“We play Uno every day that I’m here,” she says about Matty. “He will come and hover with his Uno cards and wait for me to ask if he would like to play. It’s always kind of the highlight of my day. I love playing Uno with Matty.”
With Stu, however, the friendship formed gradually.
“I remember one time we’d gone to yoga and she let me hold her bear, and that was the big indicator that I was in with her and we were good,” Emily recalls. “Since then, I go sit with her at lunch sometimes and chat with her.”
Christina says while she hasn’t delved into deep relationships with anyone specific yet, the program has taught her lifelong lessons. She compares it to her education as a public health major with hopes to one day have a career in physical therapy.
“So I probably won’t be working with people with autism but I think it’s definitely a great experience and I’ve learned a lot from it so far in terms of just learning that every person is different and has their own individual needs,” Christina says.
She continues: “Whether that’s learning how to live with autism or learning how to live with an injury with physical therapy, I think just understanding that every individual is different and has different needs and different lifestyles and personalities is something that I will definitely take away.”
Jennifer also believes the relationships go beyond the importance of friendship.
“The more people that get to know our program and our students and clients, the better they will understand the issues surrounding those with autism,” she says. “This leads to better acceptance so our students and clients become more a part of the community and not separate.”
“Because social relationships are difficult for people with autism, it is a rare gift to have such an opportunity,” Jennifer continues, in closing. “To watch the SCU students figure out how to interact with our clients and bridge the sometimes difficult interactions is wonderful. And when both our clients and the SCU students start to figure each other out and begin to truly enjoy each other’s company, it is a marvel.”
For more information about the Arrupe Program, visit http://www.scu.edu/ic/cbl/overview.cfm
by Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Leslee Hamilton, executive director of Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, is deeply rooted in the belief that connecting with nature can enrich your life — no matter who you are.
“This park is for everyone,” she emphasizes of Guadalupe River Park in San Jose. “And one of the things that I love about it is there is something for everyone, whether your thing is public art or bird watching or using the trails or gardens, or active recreation.”
The organization’s philosophy expands the definition even further: to people with different abilities.
“We launched our program for children with special needs in Fall of 2011,” Leslee says.
Special Needs Outdoor Learning Program at Guadalupe River Park Conservancy offers field trip programming designed for persons with special needs, including those with autism, Down syndrome, ADD, ADHD, deafness, blindness, and mobility impairments, according to its website.
This includes River Explorers — a hands-on, outdoor program that takes participants down into the river to experience a riparian habitat — and Flower Power — a program where special needs students can explore what the Heritage Rose Garden and Historic Orchard have to offer — both of which Morgan Autism Center students and adults have experienced.
“When Leslee told me how the staff at Guadalupe had some training for special needs students, I asked if we could be part of their program,” former Executive Director Jennifer Sullivan says. “She was very enthusiastic and encouraging of our participation.”
Students from Morgan Autism Center first visited Guadalupe in April 2011 but regular, weekly visits started in 2012.
“It has been a great partnership, giving our clients a nice opportunity to feel they are helping the community, which indeed they are,” Jennifer, who now works in the Adult Program, says.
This collaboration still continues today. Separate groups from Room 10 and the Adult Program visit Guadalupe every Friday, where they complete various tasks including picking up trash.
It is a favorite outing of many of the clients.
“While getting the benefit of exercise with a nice, long walk, and fresh air, having some time for socializing, our group also gets to work on important skills such as tool safety, and trail safety,” Flo Fuller, Morgan Autism Center Community Integration Director, says.
In fact, it is so popular that we have started rotating clients so they all get a turn.
Adult Program employee Roger De La Cruz has been part of the outings for nearly a year and a half.
“What I enjoy most about Guadalupe Park is that it enriches our clients’ lives as they help beautify the park,” he explains. “Guadalupe Park provides a safe space for our clients to build their teamwork skills.”
He is the group leader at Guadalupe and takes — along with other staff — a big group there every Friday. Boris, Molly, Drew, Chuck, John F. and Julian were just some of the many to share their enthusiasm recently about the ongoing partnership.
“What I really love the most is that there is recycling and trash to pick up and save for!” Julian says, excitedly. “I really hope I would do this some day on my own too. What I’ve learned is that I always try to do my best to keep up with the group and not to go way too far ahead.”
Many of them also enjoy what the location of Guadalupe Park offers.
“I go to Guadalupe every other Friday and I like to see the airplanes pass by on their way to the San Jose Airport: Southwest airlines and all United States airlines,” Chuck says.
Room 10 teacher Christine Cipriano said a highlight for her has been seeing relationships form and grow, noting one in particular.
“I especially love the special friendship that Jason has formed with Ranger Mike,” Christine says. “Mike still stops by to see Jason for special occasions like a lunch outing to the Elephant Bar, his birthdays and graduation even though he is now a park ranger at Alum Rock Park.”
Leslee is looking forward to furthering the relationships and partnership with Morgan Autism Center and like-minded organizations in the future, noting the ability to do so through the $6 million Rotary Children’s Playgarden — currently under construction — which will enable children with special needs to play alongside their siblings and friends. The project will be completed soon and will be maintained by Guadalupe River Park Conservancy via volunteers, in-kind donations, and fee-for-service contracts.
For more information about Guadalupe River Park Conservancy’s special needs programs, contact email@example.com or (408) 298-7657.
By Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
People diagnosed as “on the spectrum” are suddenly in demand by employers including computer software company SAP and home financing firm Freddie Mac. But Livermore-based Ratermann Manufacturing, Inc. is decades ahead of the curve — employing adult clients from Morgan Autism Center to its workforce since 1989.
It was then that George Ratermann, president of the company, was living next to Morgan Autism Center client Johann (“John”) F. who was about 20 years old.
“I was talking to his mother … and I said, ‘We have this product, and it might be something John could put together himself,’” Ratermann recalls of how the partnership began. “I just saw my next door neighbor and … I thought it was pretty hard for him to get a job otherwise. It really was quite that simple of a thought.”
But John’s mom thought more people could benefit from the opportunity to assemble custom imprinted “T-35 Ring Tags,” marked “EMPTY” on one side and “FULL” on the other. The rings are slipped around the neck of cylinders to identify whether they need refilling, while also advertising companies.
“One thing that’s really cool is we actually pay checks for these guys,” George says. “…We took a realistic average, which was probably below what someone on the assembly line could do, and made it a per piece price.”
In 2009, the percent of young adults with autism who had a job was nearly half that of all young adults with disabilities (33 percent vs. 59 percent).
Over the years, upward of 13 adults and an average of eight to nine adults have participated in the assembly line activity at Morgan Autism Center.
“I’ve been doing rings for 20-plus years and I’m the one that got the job started!” John F. proudly states. “I can do the metal clips and there are only a few people who can do that.”
The job has also evolved since its start.
It began with George’s wife stopping by the school and dropping off the necessary materials for clients to assemble at which point they would turn around and return them to Ratermann, who completed orders and shipped them to the customers.
“Now they receive it, they assemble it, they package it and they ship it directly,” George explains of the changes implemented 10 years ago.
The activity allows clients to work as little as 15 minutes or as much as a couple hours.
“We have some very large orders that you guys do that is usually 20 to 30 orders a month,” George says. “The very custom orders are probably 10 to 20 batches a month.”
Participating clients share their thoughts about having the opportunity to work for Ratermann.
“The ring job makes me feel like I’m reaching out to businesses and people and showing them what I can do,” Jeff J. says.
“I really like doing the job and getting paid and George Ratterman,” she says.
George says the work goes beyond what is accomplished for Ratermann, and more about the relationships forged along the way.
“The whole purpose is so people feel empowerment and feel productive,” George concludes. “There is a pride in ownership and in receiving a paycheck.”
By Nena Montgomery, Board Chair
Editor’s note: This is the first spotlight article in an ongoing series about our dynamic and diverse Board of Directors. The new feature in our monthly e-newsletter is an opportunity for you to gain insight into their inspiring stories of success and the reasons they consistently volunteer and give back to Morgan Autism Center.
So you might ask – what does the MAC Board do? The eight people currently serving on the Board of Directors meet once a month (with the exception of December and August) to carry out the mission of Morgan Autism Center, stated on our website:
“Our mission is to help children and adults with autism or other developmental disabilities maximize their potential in a dignified, positive and loving environment.”
We work closely with Executive Director, Brad Boardman, to ensure that all aspects of the center run smoothly. Brad updates the entire Board once a month about ongoing issues such as staffing, program development, enrollment, regional center engagement, and outreach to the larger Santa Clara community or success stories. We have also invited various teachers to come and speak to us about their individual classrooms.
Financial stability of the organization, which is a non-profit, is a priority so we work with the Development Committee and Finance Committee to ensure we have robust fundraising as well as adhere to reporting guidelines. It is important for parents to remember that the reason they don’t have to individually pay for the costs of their child/children attending Morgan Autism Center is due to those costs being borne by the Regional Centers and educational school districts. Our fundraising enhances all the programs that the center offers our children in addition to maintaining funds for our primary goal — to one day purchase a permanent site. Additionally, in conjunction with the Executive Director, we set strategic goals for the organization.
Every member of the Board serves as volunteers in this capacity in addition to on separate committees. I am Chairwoman of the Board and also serve on the Major Gifts Committee. Member Ted Moorhead is also on the Major Gifts Committee. Vice Chairman Thomas Caulfield (parent of Thomas) is on the Major Gifts Committee and Board Recruitment Committee; Member Lindley Zink is on the Board Recruitment Committee; Member Ruth Cook advises on grants; Member Christopher Escher (parent of Johnny) heads up our Communications Committee; and Members Rickey Green and Barbara Wright serve on the Finance Committee.
Some of us are parents, some teachers, some have financial expertise and others have marketing, fundraising or public relations experience. Regardless of background, we are all dedicated to maintaining the qualities that make Morgan Autism Center the special place it is — passionate people who serve our students and adult clients and their families to create possibilities.
We look forward to telling you more about each one of these dedicated people that serve on the Board in future issues of the e-newsletter.