Ag for Autism connects community resources to autism community
Delta Digital News Service
Oct. 8, 2023
By Avery Jones | Editor
JONESBORO, Ark. – On Saturday, July 22, Ag for Autism held its first Autism Community Fest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Central Baptist Church. The purpose of the event was to connect families with service providers and award the nonprofit’s annual grants.
During the event, families dealing with autism got a chance to meet and connect with representatives of various service providers. The event included several food vendors and a variety of entertainments geared toward those with autistic family members. Along with festival staples such as bounce houses, the event included a “sensory tent” to offer to kids who needed a break from the noise and other stimulation.
Several grants were awarded to families and those aiding the autistic community. Families receiving aid and guest speakers discussed the way in which Ag for Autism impacted their lives.
According to Daniel Pieroni, an Ag for Autism board member, the organization was established in 2012 by a small group of agriculture businesses, which has since expanded. Armor Seed initiated it because they had many employees with children who have autism. They partnered with Farm Credit of Mid-America and Cache River Valley Seed.
“I have a son with autism, so the cause is near to my heart,” Pieroni said.
The main purpose of the organization is to raise money for families who have children with autism and to connect such families with available resources. The group arranges events every year, such as their Super Bowl Sunday event where they partner with the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
All of the group’s proceeds go to fund their grants and endeavors to help the autism community. This year, they received 91 grant applications and approved 75 of them. Overall, a little over $172,000 in grants were awarded. To date, the organization has awarded $1 million dollars in grants.
“We’ve gained a lot of traction in only two years,” said Danny Graham, the president of Ag for Autism. “Just three years ago, we didn’t have nearly that much money.”
“We’ve gained a lot of traction in only two years. Just three years ago, we didn’t have nearly that much money.”
– Danny Graham, President of Ag for Autism
The group also partners with fraternities and sororities like Alpha Gamma Rho at Arkansas State University. Several of the Greek members often volunteer and host fundraisers such as rodeos which raised $8,000 for the organization.
Members of the Fortenberry familys have benefited from the organization for their own kids as well as an organization they’re involved with called the Lighthouse Education Cooperative.
“We’ve been getting grants since 2018,” said Rhiannon Fortenberry, an attendee at the event and employee at the Lighthouse Education Cooperative. “When I was in grad school, I received an individual grant…to continue my master’s degree in ABA. My son…this will be his third grant that he’s received, and then the company I work for also receives a grant every year…”
ABA (applied behavior analysis,) is a type of therapy that treats autism in which the child works one-on-one with a therapist to reinforce positive behaviors. ABA studies how behavior works in real life situations to determine which behaviors are positive and which are harmful in school, work, and relationships.
Service providers included Social Space, a new ABA therapy clinic in Paragould designed specifically for kids and teenagers.
They do mental health counseling as well as ABA therapy. Their main goal is to provide a fun and engaging safe space for children with ABA needs to learn and play alongside others with the same needs. Additionally, they provide an after-school teen program and one-on-one support from therapists for teens.
The H.O.W.L Transition Program from Arkansas State University provides support and tutoring for students with intellectual disabilities who need help transitioning to independent lives.
The David E. Puryear Center in Jonesboro provided by The Learning Center. The Center is a long-term care facility for adults of varying ages with developmental disabilities.
The Center provides 24-7 care and support that includes domestic skills training, social activities, leisure activities, and vocational training. All of the patients are expected to keep up with cleaning, cooking, and laundry to the best of their ability.
There are also a couple of programs available for those who are low-income. The Arkansas Autism Partnership in Little Rock is a Medicaid waiver program that provides in-home intervention for young children with autism.
Parents will also be trained in this program to use the same strategies; they’re expected to be active in their child’s treatment. They also get to select the agency that they work with.
A similar program is Summit Community Care The organization helps those who are eligible for Medicaid figure out the resources they need and form a care plan. They work with anyone who needs it, including those with mental disabilities.
The patient can choose their provider, and they get unlimited medicine and doctor visits without copays. Additionally, the patient can get training and support for an independent life, like getting guidance with housing, employment, school, relationships, and mental health.
There were several other organizations in attendance, all of which work in some capacity with children who have autism. By noon, the entire gymnasium was almost entirely full of not only businesses displaying their support, but also attendees learning about resources and enjoying the food and games.
Autism Community Fest makes debut. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council