Monday, December 4, 2017

"AHA Gala" by Devika Narayan




“We raised a RECORD-BREAKING 1.5 million dollars this year!!!” Hearing this statement, made my heart fill with joy, knowing that I had been a part of the incredible feat. Last weekend I was lucky enough to volunteer as well as appear at the annual American Heart Association Gala at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The red-carpet event is held annually to help raise funds for the AHA to help patients directly.

 

Today over 610,000 individuals are affected yearly by heart disease in the US alone. Affecting individuals of all ages and abilities, the heart disease plagues the lives of many. Being a part of the event and knowing I was helping this cause made me happy to represent not only the International Organization, but also the fact that I could connect with donors and supporters and hear their “why”, or their passion or inspiration for attending and supporting the AHA.

 

Hearing the “why” from people was a really moving experience. To hear about family members affected, and how other family members can only watch and contribute to events such as the Gala really made me appreciate the efforts of organizations like the AHA and their mission to help patients with the resources they really need.

 

One of my very fun roles of the evening was to be a part of the Tiffany booth, one of the main auction booths. There, I was not only able to help donors understand the purpose and goal of the Tiffany booth, but was also able to meet and speak with them personally, talking about my platform with my title, and my commitment with the AHA. As a queen, you always get to talk about all the fun events and organizations you work with, but that evening it felt really great to tell people about how I really am committed to these individuals and the efforts of the organization.

 

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience that I will cherish. Being able to connect and use my title the way that I am able to is something I will always be grateful for.

"Kind kids" by Stephanie Welter

 


    One of my favorite jobs is to spend time on the air with my friends at KTIS Radio. My good friend Keith Stevens of the KTIS afternoon show did a segment while I was on with him called “kind kids,” where we took a minute to acknowledge good hearted kids who go out of their way to do kind things for others.
    We took phone calls from listeners who wanted to share with pride their kids and how they are doing things like befriending kids at school who seem lonely, and others who are starting charitable organizations to help kids who go without school lunches. During our time listening and cheering on other parents for supporting their kind kids, I had the chance to reflect on my own amazing 4 children (two of which are no longer “kids” but amazing nonetheless).
   

 
  I was reminded of how much my 12, 14 and 21 year old help their 20 year old brother Ben who has a diagnosis of Autism. When you are a family with an individual with special needs - and special gifts, your kids have endless opportunities to display kindness and help. They grow up with a different perspective than most. They tend to be a bit more flexible. They are more understanding of others with special needs and exhibit acts of compassion because they have more opportunity too throughout life at home and out and about in the community with a sibling who needs a bit of extra assistance.
   


  Last week my heart melted as I watched my 12 year old daughter help her brother bake chocolate chip cookies. He was really excited about the prospect of having cookies and I thought it would be fun to teach him how to make them himself (with appropriate measures of help). My daughter Savannah stepped in and I marveled at how sweet and gentle she was in her instruction.
   
 
  I see as my kids get older how incredibly beneficial it has been for them to have come alongside their brother to teach him different things or to guide him through the daily components of life. I know how much we have all been blessed by Ben’s sensitivity, his intelligence, his sweet spirit and his sense of humor. We’ve learned more than I have room to write about from Benjamin. There have been challenges, of course. But, as my children grow and mature, I can see now all the incredible qualities they exhibit the older they get and the more we spend time with other families and with other kids. Compassion, empathy, kindness and patience are not necessarily qualities that come naturally to everyone. But these qualities certainly can be taught, practiced and encouraged in our own kids and giving kids the chance to prove how kind they can be will be an exercise in humanity and care that I believe we will all benefit from. I’m proud of my “kind kids!”

"Autism Speaks " by Stephanie Welter




 
    A few months ago I received a message from a beautiful woman that I had met this spring when I had the honor of giving the commencement speak at LionsGate Academy graduation ceremony. Her and I had the chance to speak about her little boy and also her nephew, who at the time was graduating. We exchanged contact information and resolved that we would connect down the road.
    When I received a message from Ramona to join her and team Autism Love at the annual Autism Speaks walk, I was thrilled. I immediately said yes and knew we were going to have an incredible adventure. I was honored to walk with her and Jayden, but was also walking for my son Benjamin and our entire family.
   Our walk began as we gathered together at the US Bank Stadium, a place I had never been, but was awe-struck by. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece of architecture and the fact that we were going to get the chance to actually walk ON the field sent a thrill up everyone’s spine. We gathered together in the middle of the field and prepared to honor our loved ones with a sensory friendly cheer. We each had pom-poms and instead of cheering and clapping, we quietly shook out pom-poms in solidarity and with excitement as we prepared for the national anthem.
    A young man took the stage. I was told he had autism, and as he stepped to the microphone to sing the national anthem, tears fell from my eyes. It was a beautiful sound and an even more moving site to see this young man stand in courage in front of a crowd and share in these moments of togetherness and community.
    We watched as photos flashed across the jumbotron of our smiling, laughing faces and teams gathered for team shots. We saw the signal 3...2...1 on the jumbotron and the walk officially began.
    As we walked we all talked and shared stories, therapeutic journeys and bragged about the amazing progress and achievements both big and small that our loved ones were making. Kids shook their pom-poms, parents pushed strollers and advocates held team signs. After a few laps about US Bank Stadium, the walk was complete and the organization Autism Speaks completed another successful fundraising walk to help kids on the spectrum get the help and support they need to live full productive lives.
    The more time I spend in the autism community the more fascinated I am and the more proud I become.



"Spooktacular" by Stephanie Welter

 


    If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in being partnered with The Minnesota Autism Center Schools (The MAC School) is that when they put on an event, they do it right and they do it well! This year’s annual “Spooktacular” was no exception!
    The staff goes out of their way to present fun, adventurous activities for the students, so when they get a chance to decorate, set up game stations and put together a “spooky trail” they go all out and spend a lot of time and energy.
    This year the kids walked through the doors dressed up in their favorite costumes to a hallway filled with games. In order to get their “treat” the students had to do various things like tell a joke, play a game, or throw a ping pong ball into a tiny glass in order get their candy. As I approached the first station with my son Ben, the girls behind the candy station said to Ben, “Ummm….in order to get candy here, you have to tell us a joke.” I hesitated and said, “uh oh, I don’t think…..” no sooner did I get those words out of my mouth when Ben started. “Knock Knock” he said. “Who’s there?” they both chimed in simultaneously. “Boo!” he said. “Boo who?” they asked. “Don’t cry, it’s only a joke!” He replied as we all laughed.
    We sat and ate pumpkin shaped sugar cookies and headed into the dance. The gymnasium had special blue lights and a hologram projection of a haunted house against the wall with some quiet playing music and rubber insects on the floor.
   They offered a “trail of terror” type of experience which I never do. I don’t enjoy being scared out of my wits, but I asked Ben if he wanted to go and of course he said, “yes!” Off we went, tour guide in front of us cracking “scary” jokes, flashlights in hand we ventured off out the back door and into the woods. Left and right people dressed like zombies popped out of us. My sons laughed and joked while I screamed and jumped nearly out of my skin. I had more fun than I expected too and we all decided at the end that once again this year this event was even better than last. Complete success!
The kids were happy, the parents got great photographs and the staff got to try their hand at costume design and acting.
    One things that us parents of kids and even young adults on the autism spectrum, is when we get the opportunity to do “typical” kinds of things that other kids get to enjoy. The MAC School goes out of their way to provide “typical” kinds of fun activities for kids that are not neuro-typical. These kids work hard each day to do the things that most of us take advantage of, so to be able to laugh and enjoy and watch them thrive is a treasure to a parent like me.