So where was I?
Ah, yes, Drew and I had just met with Jeneil, along with a few others – including one who is doing groundbreaking (sometimes literally) work in the area of adult housing, one who is a psychologist who works with ASD families and one who works as a community service liaison for adults with Asperger’s – all of them parents of children or adults on the autism spectrum.
Drew left that first meeting with pages of notes. We all left with reams of hope.
As we stood outside on the sidewalk that night gathering our thoughts and chattering excitedly, I remember wondering if it was just me. Perhaps I was naive, I thought. Perhaps I wanted to believe in him because he was an old friend.
I timidly asked the group for their thoughts. The responses tumbled out in rapid fire – “Oh, Jess, he LISTENED. He actually LISTENED,” said the mom of two young adults on the spectrum.
“I don’t want to get too excited,” said another, “but I really feel like this mattered.”
The third added, shaking her head slowly as she spoke, “I’m just so grateful.”
There was a lot to consider out of that meeting – and it was a lot more than we could accomplish quickly. Within short order, Drew had put together a comprehensive overview of his notes and sent it to the attendees for feedback. After reviewing each topic in detail and assigning a staff person to each one, Drew wrapped up his note to us with four short sentences that convinced me we were in the right hands.
Thanks for listening.
I am interested in feedback.
More to come.
Drew and I got together to strategize after the meeting. Of all the priorities, I said, getting Rhema protected had to be first. I didn’t mean to haul out the soapbox, but the next thing I knew I was hoisting it up on the table and climbing on up. I know this surprises none of you, but back then poor Drew had no idea what he was in for. Nearly a year and a whole lot of meetings later, he’s come to expect it, but back then I felt a little sorry for the guy.
Once secure on my soapbox, I told him about the military problem. I told him that the disastrously low level of care for our military families with autism simply must not – can not – be allowed to stand as it is. I explained that according to the Department of Defense’s own numbers, 1 in 88 military dependents is on the autism spectrum. I told him that of those, less that 10% are getting the services they need. TEN Percent.
I gained steam as I told him that it was unconscionable to me that the families who choose to serve their country are forced to fight battles on two fronts. That retirees – including those who were gravely wounded in battle and thereby forced to MEDICALLY retire due to injuries sustained AT WAR – had absolutely no autism coverage under Tricare.
I told him that I couldn’t live with the fact that children of our nation’s heroes had LESS support than mine.
I explained that I had watched Jeneil and her family struggle along with so many other military families and that I needed to find a way to help them. That I needed HIM to help.
“Find one thing that can be done and do it. Find one family that needs help and help them. One at a time.”
The locator for Rhema would be our first order of business.
Drew set out to find a corporate partner. His first call was to a gentleman named Todd Morris, the CEO of BrickHouse Security. As I had been with Drew, Drew was ready for the hard sell to Mr. Morris. But just like Drew, Mr. Morris didn’t need to be sold. After hearing about Rhema, he was on board. He not only donated the device, but waived the associated service fees in perpetuity. Thanks to Mr. Morris’s overwhelming generosity, the first hurdle turned out not to be a hurdle at all.
And finally, I got to send the best e-mail EVER.
Sept 19, 2011.From: Jess.To: Jeneil.cc: Drew O’Brien, Ashley O’Neil, Todd Morris, Captain Negrotti..Jeneil,.I am thrilled to introduce you to the people who have come together to help keep your beautiful Rhema safe. Ashley O’Neill, who works with Drew O’Brien in Senator Kerry’s office, Todd Morris, CEO of BrickHouse Security and Captain Negrotti of the [their town’s] PD.
Mr. Morris has incredibly generously offered to supply Rhema with an appropriate security device and to cover the cost of service fees associated with round-the-clock monitoring through EmFinders, the system used by [your town’s] Police Department.
Captain Negrotti will be registering the device as soon as you are able to connect with Mr. Morris and give him the necessary information.
For my part, I can’t thank you all enough for your time, your effort, your compassion and your generosity. To Senator Kerry, Drew and Ashley, your dedication to our community is so greatly appreciated. To Mr. Morris and Captain Negrotti, thank you both from the bottom of my heart.
I am so touched by the way you all have come together to support the most deserving family I know in their efforts to keep their precious child safe. At a time when the rhetoric in our nation so easily gets overheated and divisive talk dominates the media, I am heartened by this moment. The Russells have poured their hearts and souls into protecting our nation. I am deeply grateful for your help in returning the favor to them.
I’ll let you all take it from here.