Hello My Friends-
Last week I wrote about a special Saturday morning working with my son Harrison, his friends and their buddies at Social Motion Skills. It was a morning full of inspiration and I was thrilled to meet Social Motion Skills Founder Wendy Dawson and learn about her organization.
That day I also met Aspire Accessories Creative Director Denise Hazen. Aspire is a program that’s part of the Social Motion Skills organization, and I am thrilled to partner with these organizations and feature their merchandise in-store and online in celebration of Autism Awareness Month.
That day really touched me and I want you guys to get to know Wendy and Denise and their amazing organizations. Today, we chat with Wendy Dawson of Social Motion Skills, and next week we’ll visit with Denise.
Without further ado, here’s Wendy!
ET: Tell us about your organization, Social Motion Skills, and who it serves?
WD: Social Motion, Inc. was founded to meet a gap in services for individuals with social and learning deficits. A local 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Social Motion Skills serves children, adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders and similar special needs. Its programs equip these individuals with social skills, life skills and workforce readiness in a safe, supportive community. Social Motion works to prepare students for employment, highest-possible functioning and independence. It also provides employers with education and resources for hiring differently-abled workers. To date, Social Motion has served more than 1300 families in the Houston metro area. Basically it boils down to offering social skills, enrichment and transition programs for students ages 3-43. The majority of our students fall in the age range of 8-28.
ET: What was your inspiration?
WD: My stepson was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) at the age of two. After he came into my life at age four, his Dad and I spent the next decade scouring the Houston area for social skills classes geared for children on the autism spectrum. We were looking for a program that offered 100% social skills concentration — a stable and sustainable program offering precursory training for the situations he would face for years to come. We did not want anything clinical or temporary. We wanted social skills training focused on personal development, judgment, decision-making and the opportunity to practice those skills in a safe environment as he evolved. We never found it, so in early 2010 we founded Social Motion. It is my sincere hope that what was once missing in our son’s life is now found for other children and their families.
ET: Tell us about some of your programs.
WD: Social Motion’s vision is to transform the lives of those with social cognitive challenges and our mission is to provide strategies and life-path solutions to enable them to become productive, fulfilled individuals. We are the only non-profit organization in the Greater Houston area that provides this span of highly specialized services to families and individuals who are affected with social cognitive disorders like autism, ADD/ADHD, and learning deficits. Since 2010, our dedicated staff at Social Motion has provided an unparalleled level of personal understanding, vision, expertise, and experience to make a meaningful difference in the lives of every family who seeks assistance. The organization provides social skills classes to students of all ages, support and coaching for families, a specialized driver’s education program for youth, enrichment activities and social groups for youth and young adults, mentoring for autistic teens, transition and job training, and the Aspire Accessories microenterprise program.
Our partnership with Elaine Turner involves our training program Aspire Accessories which was created and founded by Denise Hazen in 2011 for her son with autism who had shown fine motor skill talents and an interest in leather working. (Check out Aspire’s lovely handmade necklaces and bracelets here.) Denise and I have been friends for a long time, and timing was right in 2016 to bring our programs together. We are two mothers and two sons making one hugely impactful program.
ET: Do you have a success story to share?
WD: I have several to share. Teens Mentoring Teens brings special needs teens together with peer typicals to foster meaningful relationships for both mentor and mentee. (This is the group that Elaine’s son Harrison and friends participate in and she wrote about it here.) This group is proving so successful — so full of love, great teens and goodwill!
Michael Wilson, a graduate of our T3 program (Transition, Training, Taxpaying) is now working at Castaway Rods part-time and at Aspire part-time. He has grown tremendously in his self-confidence, and ability to assimilate into meaningful work. Michael tells how he was lost after high school with no obvious path, no direction, no surety, no community. He has found it all through SoMo, Aspire and purposeful, interesting work at Castaway Rods. Michael is excellent with hands-on work, so our training led naturally into his work at the custom fishing-rod manufacturer. It helps that the owner of Castaway, Mac DeLaup, is an amazing man with a heart bigger than his smile. Michael is a success and has many more successes to come.
The Aspire Accessories program is an amazing success. Last year Aspire racked up over $100,000 in sales without a storefront and with the most expensive item being $68. The sales came from friends, pop-up shops at local holiday markets and from major orders from large clients who believe in our mission, like the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Not only was success measured in gross sales, but more importantly for us, we paid approximately $31,000 in wages to our Aspire Artisans for their diligent work.
ET: How can readers help or get involved with your organization?
WD: Readers can get involved in a variety of ways from the most simple social media “share” to telling a friend in need about our program. We have something for all ages. We love volunteers — mature volunteers who can assist and mentor in our workshop and student volunteers who want to work and learn alongside our students.
We especially need employers who have the heart and mindset to employ these amazing young adults when they finish our program. Ideally these employers value diligent, loyal employees who will love their job and spread that joy to customers. They are employers who want to make a social responsibility message that their workforce mimics the real world and families from all walks of life, and all are welcome at their place of business.
Other than supporting our mission by purchasing a beautiful handcrafted necklace at Elaine Turner boutiques and online this month, we always need donations. Approximately one third of our operating revenue comes from sliding scale tuition, and we rely on the generosity of donors for the balance. We focus on quality over quantity so our student to teacher ratio is low. What we do is expensive but effective and the long term results are priceless.
ET: What is your favorite accessory from the Social Motion/Aspire Accessories collection at Elaine Turner and why?
WD: My favorite accessory in the collection has to be the Lucky Val choker. Not only is it beautiful, simple, timeless, and easy to wear, but I know the amazing young lady for whom it was named. Just thinking about Val brings a smile to my face. The necklace that carries her name furthers the good feelings and happiness when I wear it out in the world. (Plus, people always compliment me on it!! :))
ET: What have you learned since founding SoMo and what does the future hold?
WD: One of the differentiating factors about Social Motion and the Aspire program is the sense of community that we create for our families and their students. Denise and I like to be windows to the world for those raising children on the spectrum behind us. We truly hope what was once missing from our family’s lives will be available to those who follow us. We focus on life path needs.
We’re not perfect, we create, morph and adjust daily, but that’s life as we learn and accommodate and provide. We include students and their parents. We create events where they can celebrate their differences with age appropriate activities. We create a safe place for them to learn and grow. At the heart of it all, we create an environment where these great kids can achieve, feel a sense of self-esteem, believe that they have a place and purpose, and are valuable contributors to our community. We live our mission statement which is to transform the lives of those with social cognitive differences such as autism and other similar special needs.
Currently, my son Cameron (age 21) is completing his junior year at Texas Tech. The CASE program there provides just enough support while letting him spread his wings. Nick (Denise’s son, age 21) is a major producer and talented artisan in the Aspire Accessories workshop. Our long term goals are focused on housing options for our adult children with varying degrees of needs.
Be sure to check back next week. We’ll be chatting with Aspire Accessories Creative Director Denise Hazen!
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