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"These grants hit my heart even more than I could imagine"

Today Autism Speaks announced the recipients of the 2013 Chapter, Regional and Neighborhood Grants programs. These grants are selected at the local level by volunteers that include parents, professionals and individuals with autism. Below one volunteer talks about her experience reviewing grant applications. "These grants hit my heart even more than I could imagine."

My Background

When Kara (our regional representative for AS) sent out an email asking for volunteers, I couldn’t help myself.  I have spent the past 10 years working with non-profits.  I have been a Director of a volunteer center, Executive Director of a different non-profit affiliate, and now I work with a great organization that helps raise funds for many other non-profits in Kansas City.  When Kara asked for help to review regional grants, I couldn’t turn that down.  I have reviewed federal grants, state grants, university grants, and so many more.  But these grants hit my heart even more than I could imagine.

The Process

I felt like I was an expert when 5-6 grants came landing in front of me on my computer.  I’ve done this before, I know how to do this, and THIS should be easy!  Then I started reading each grant, one by one…reading about each amazing program.  Just imagine sitting in the middle of a small community in Michigan, trying to think about how to increase and move forward autism support.  You and your friends are having coffee at Panera and just talking about how you can solve some missing programs or brainstorming about how you could create a ‘so cool’ program that could benefit your children.  That’s exactly what others have done.

Some of the programs were very small, a one person shop non-profit, just imagine.  But what impact could they provide for adults with autism? Something I sure couldn’t imagine myself.  An arts vocation support program for adults that are transitioning?  Amazing!  How about a large study at a University that wants to provide more iPads for children in their social skills program.  I can’t imagine how we could not expand that.  Don’t each of us want an iPad for anyone who needs one to communicate or learn?  I can’t forget about the grant that describes a great partnership with another organization to create social activities that are related to wellness.  Here comes the tough part…

The Selection

I know, I know, I know the process, I know there are not unlimited funds.  We have to narrow these great programs down.  Take a deep breath.  Know that each program is valuable and helpful.  Your volunteer job is to narrow these down and make recommendations.  I took just a few hours to review these grants, but I could tell with each application the heart and need behind each one.  I ranked my choices and turned in my list. 

Then I love that we had an opportunity to convene, the committee that is, and discuss each of the grants we reviewed.  I love that our committee was made up of: non-profit professionals, parents, educators, practitioners and supporters. 

That gave us such a well-rounded view of each grant and program.  We each had a chance to present each grant that we top rated.  We took turns, gave honest feedback about programs and then plainly stated: Yes, No, Maybe.  We knew we were making some major decisions and a few hesitated about that.  But we all understood the importance of our volunteer roles.  Now it’s time for the outcome.  The results if you will.  The feedback goes back to a review team at AS and the larger pool of grants is deliberated.  No matter how tough it was to select grants to be possibly awarded, I was enlightened.  As a parent of a child with autism, I was amazed at the hard work and dedication out there to support those with autism.  They ranged anywhere from vocational, social, therapeutic, and some just plain fun.  It made me proud to be a part of this process and was a great reminder of why I support Autism Speaks.  They bring such value to programs around the country that benefit so many.  I was thrilled to be a part of this well-constructed, and transparent process.  Now if only we could find that magic never-ending stream of funds, to support any idea and program that is out there!  

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.