Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Foundation and A Song for Autism

The way we encounter connections and conversations with one another has always led me to believe that life works in mysterious ways. As a writer I find myself an equal part  introvert and extrovert. Maybe it's just inate to who I am, how I was raised, or the perceptions of others. When we think of personalities, differences, and people in general it isn't common to think about or discuss disabilities and special needs. Tammy Tran Nguyen, founder of KNOW Autism would like to change that. 1 in 68 children born are affected by Autism. This doesn’t include other types of special needs, or disabilities. Tammy founded KNOW Autism, located in Houston Texas in 2013. Their goal is to support families and reduce the burden of an Autism diagnosis by providing financial assistance, education, and resources. As a fellow mother and advocate to a child with Autism she saw the dire need in her community for early screenings, awareness, inclusion, and training. As we all know there is a relevant need for knowledge, acceptance, and early intervention. Thankfully, there are people who want to help. Kelly Levesque is one of them. A singer, songwriter, and mother Kelly told me that she knew of Autism, but didn't 'know' Autism; adding that her newly found awareness has been extremely eye opening. Her decision to donate a song she wrote titled 'I Won’t Let You Down' to the foundation has sparked a desire in her to continue to do more. I was asked to interview both of these beautiful souls and I felt honored to do so. The connection with each was undeniably remarkable.

KNOW Autism

I was certainly impressed with the overall idea of KNOW Autism so let me explain a little bit about it. The Stewart Center in Houston, TX is where children are screened st and early age and parents are not only informed, but given the tools to satisfy their child's individual needs, for free. There are special projects including Theatre Under the Stars which launches a Community Arts Residency for fine arts education to preschoolers and includes training on Autism Spectrum Disorder to increase awareness, encourage early intervention, and facilitate more autism friendly events. The hope is to eventually offer this up to 5th grade. Tammy hopes to help foster a better environment for ALL children, regardless of disability. Each and every interaction, whether a child is on the spectrum or not is important. She feels it is vital to equip children with the knowledge needed for healthy interactions amongst their peers.

Tammy Tran Nguyen

My conversation with Tammy went like this: I asked her what was the one most important piece of advice she'd give to other parents, as a parent herself of a child on the spectrum. She felt this was a difficult question, but quickly replied advising that 'It's going to be ok'. When she first received her son's diagnosis she cried, she wondered what will happen, how will they do this, and more. There were so many unanswered questions. But she realized that she must keep it simple. She said you will figure a way to navigate the journey, you will find yourself appreciating your family and discovering so much about one another. I then asked about expansion of the Community Arts Residencies and Tammy advised as of right now they are working with Pre K, first, and second graders and  hopes to secure this upwards to the fifth grade. She wants to show typical children what to expect, that everyone has their own characteristics, how to help them be ambassadors to those with special needs, and end ultimately end bullying. This led me to ask if KNOW Autism has any new ideas set for review, of which she responded that teachers are important. They are working on a project that will train teachers to teach children about the differences and interactions of typical and special needs students. I am a huge fan of the fact that Tammy and Kelly met because I believe Autism and music go hand in hand. Tammy met Kelly through her performance at Unicef, loved her voice, and  requested she play at their 2018 Gala. Kelly felt compelled to help. She donated her song and her entire music video to KNOW Autism. All proceeds go entirely to the foundation. Tammy expressed how grateful she was for her generosity and talent. Tammy explained that the song is to help others understand that the parent is often neglected through their sacrifices, efforts are either expected or go unnoticed. This song can connect all of us no matter what disability, worries or experiences they've gone through. Finally, I asked how others could help her to promote her cause. The reply was this: 1) Learn the signs of Autism. Knowing for early detection is a must. Whether it's your child or someone else's. 2) SHARE. Share their website
Share and download the video to help fund their tuition program. Every dollar goes towards the foundation. Each click, share, and download adds up. We can't all be as involved, but we all can do this. I was impressed with Tammy's positive mindset and feel her contribution will affect many for the better.

Kelly Levesque

When I spoke with Kelly she was pleasant as could be, while sitting poolside in LA nervously watching her 18mos old take swimming lessons you couldn't hear it in her voice. I told her how I was literally in tears after listening to her song and that it  touched me on multiple levels. I must say, she truly has the voice of an angel. Her reasons for writing 'I Won’t Let You Down' came after realizing a parent's love for their child is unknown until you experience it by having one for yourself. As a lover of music since childhood, she chose this  passion over completing college, and hasn't looked back. I asked about her affiliation with Tammy and she explained it was after she sang with Michael Bolton at a Unicef Gala that she spoke with Tammy. Kelly said of Tammy that her energy was there, she is such an incredible woman, and she knew immediately she wanted to help. Of course because she's a singer, I had to ask her who on the music scene has influenced her musically, and who was she the most excited to perform with. Her answer was that there are so many artists who have influenced her, but she would have to start with what her parents loved to listen to. Her dad was an avid Beatles fan, and her mom adored Christmas music and Johnny Mathis. Her own influences have been big voices like Joanne Mitchell, and Aretha Franklin, but the first artist that impressed her was Debbie Gibson. Writing, singing, and producing her own music at age 16.. how impressive is that!  Michael Jackson and many others have inspired her along the way. Kelly told me it was very exciting to perform with Sting. He was professional and talented. The one performance that pushed her to great lengths was singing with Andrea Bocelli, because she not only had to perform in front of 30,000+, but had to learn two songs in a foreign language - one in Spanish and one in Italian. Do you think that stopped her? No. She believes all her training, long hours, and dedication is part of being ready for anything that comes your way. When I read her bio I was drawn to her quotes, one of which particularly stood out for me - "What if...  I pushed aside the voices that say you can't and you won't. Powerful. Kelly further stated that in the music industry they seem to want to put you in a box. She wants to be authentic, and listen to her heart. After her first record deal at age 18 she always wanted to be proud of who she saw in the mirror. To my question about upcoming projects or collaborations she advised how she's always touring (you can find the schedule on her website), there's a Christmas single in the works, and she's doing a whole lot of writing right now. Kelly explained that music hits her at different times and random places. A lyric can develop an idea, while going to the piano helps her to find those lyrics. I asked her what she wants others to learn from her song. Her reply is that she wants the community to know that she cares, that she's willing to offer a lending hand when they need it, and she's here to help. Adding if everyone could give and help what a better place it would be. I have to agree. And then her voice faded off as she nervously tells me how glad she is that she doesn't have to be in the pool teaching her daughter how to swim. It's necessary to allow an instructor assist her daughter in a skill for betterment, but she's a mommy, and mommy's are going to worry whenever their children are involved. The quote in the beginning of her video says " There is nothing more powerful than a parents love for their child". This is oh so true. We all want what is best for our children, we want them to excel, we want them to be the best they can be. The way to do ensure these things is to intervene as necessary.

Please CLICK, SHARE, and DOWNLOAD 'I Won’t Let You Down' by Kelly Levesque.

I promise - you won't be disappointed. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

New Beginnings

 Most who have followed my blog know that I write about a few different things; including my experiences raising a child with special needs, inspirational posts, and living life aboard a sailboat. Well, I guess you could say I jumped ship. I finally answered my own question; ' What does April want?'. It saddens me to have had to leave a relationship, a life, a dream, that took years to build. But it saddens me more to know that it took me so long to find the clarity my soul deserved. The boat life brought me clarity, and for that I will always know that I'm on the right path. 

I found myself gripped with an instant realization, an epiphany if you will, about a year ago. And honestly, it was quite longer than that. Living aboard Summer Reign was a mixture of exhilarating, aggravating, relaxing,  and at times quite difficult. My mind was both at ease and a gnarled mess all at the same time. The simple life offered the beauty of simplicity. It was found in the awe inspiring  sunrises, the majestic sunsets, the peekaboo moonrise and the way the moonlight sparklied over the water like a dream come true. 

But instead of happiness, weariness and confusion tormented me. What had become  someone else's dream come true, was now my worst nightmare. A photo or Facebook post never tells you the whole story. A picture was only part of my experience, it was not fully authentic.  When you live in such small quarters with a person of course there's difficulties, however, when you don't recognize that person anymore that's a whole  different story. When you don't even recognize yourself,  or know what I'd false vs real -  that becomes a scary new reality. I had, over our  years together, allowed this person to overstep boundaries. Over and over. Time and time again. Until it broke me. 

It broke me, but it didn't shatter me. I suffered mentally, and emotionally through years of a life built on conditional love. The person who was supposed to love, cherish" and look out for me either failed to realize or didn't care to know they'd been doing the opposite. Not to mention just how hurtful they had been. It took a year of therapy to come to previously said realizations. I don't want to go into too much detail, so maybe I'll save it for my next book. All I can say is that after I worked so hard to help someone else accomplish their dream, I've decided I deserve to accomplish my own dream. 

So now, as my journey continues, I'm  figuring out what that dream may be. As new beginnings unfold I am healing and confident that I will wander onto the precise path I'm supposed to be. I traded the boat life in FL for a brand new life in GA. The air is different here, and it feels wonderful. 

- Nothing you do in this life is written in stone; except the inscription on your head stone.

Choices, decisions, and changes can be made at any time. You may be going through a difficult situation where there's been a weight of contemplation towards making a change. Only you can decide what is best for you. Others cannot peer in with some notion that they can grasp even an iota of what you've been through. True circumstances aren't as simple as a Facebook post. Believe in yourself, love yourself, and know you are not by yourself; because your angels are standing right by your side.